At a time when every act of every major festival can be watched, in real time, in lush hi-def, from the comfort of your air-conditioned living room, the whole notion of the concert film seems hopelessly olde-timey. Ditto the rock documentary, which is rarely more insightful or revealing than the average artist’s Twitter feed or brand-sponsored behind-the-scenes homepage video fodder.
Which is why Shut Up and Play the Hits, which played in theaters last night nationwide for a special one! Night! Only! event, feels like it sneaks through a loophole. Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace’s film stays focused on LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden last April and its deflating, lonely, morning-aftermath, with a minimum of buildup or backstory. The narrative, such as it is, consists mostly of Chuck Klosterman’s Guardian interview with retiring LCD leader James Murphy, who lays out his reasons for ending his band.
But from this simple premise comes a proper movie’s worth of drama. Shut Up and Play the Hits — Arcade Fire frontman-turned-guest backup singer Win Butler shouts this to Murphy during the latter’s long preamble to “North American Scum” — is the Pulp Fiction of rock docs; it begins with the stage cleanup, and darts back and forth between the show itself and Murphy’s anti-climactic day after, puttering around his apartment and the streets of Williamsburg with his French bulldog before meeting his now ex-bandmates for a last supper, and a stop along the way for a good cry while looking at his gear for the last time. And given that the MSG extravaganza itself was streamed that night, this added context is more than enough to feel like you’re watching a movie, and not some slapped-together brand extension. And while seeing this in a crowded theater with good sound can't replicate the real thing — no one so much as tapped a foot, much less danced in the aisles — it wasn't meant for your browser window, either.
A five-minute scene of Murphy shaving, painstakingly, with electric clippers, while still wearing his tuxedo shirt from the night before, may not sound cinematic, but this disarming, if premeditated, intimacy reminds why this kind of filmmaking still has a place in an all-access-all-the-time world. Even if it can result in the exact sort of mythmaking that terrifies and tempts Murphy in not always equal measure. STEVE KANDELL
Shut Up and Play the Hits By the Numbers
Number of onscreen hugs: 30
Number of extra-special Arcade Fire hugs: 3
Number of appearances by Murphy's scene-stealing, adorable French bulldog: 6
Number of live songs included: 12 ("Dance Yrself Clean," "Movement," "All My Friends," "Us V. Them," "45:33" excerpt, "Sound of Silver," "Losing My Edge," "North American Scum," "Yeah," "Someone Great," "Jump Into the Fire," and "New York I Love You")
Number of cameos by comedians: 2 (Aziz Ansari, Donald Glover, and also a guy who looked a lot like Andy Samberg)
Number of shots of Aziz gleefully crowdsurfing: 3 (you go, girl!)
Number of weeping hipsters captured on film for all eternity: at least a dozen, including two in panda suits
Messages for James Murphy when he wakes up after the show: 15
Number of neckties interviewer Chuck Klosterman was "not anticipating" Murphy to be wearing at the interview: 1
Number of minutes during the scene where James Murphy is shaving his beard before he actually reaches his neck: 3
Number of very Chuck Klosterman-like questions asked by Chuck Klosterman: Many. "When you start a band, do you imagine how it will end?"; "When does art begin?"; "When you read Gravity's Rainbow to be cool, who are you trying to be cool for?"; "You strike me as someone who is acutely aware of your age"; "Do you like talking about yourself?"; "What has been the biggest failure of LCD Soundsystem?"
Number of times James Murphy says no one will ever be able to become David Bowie: 2
Number of camera crews ballsy enough to follow Nancy Whang into the ladies room during the first set break: 1
Number of awesome Afros during the second part of "45:33": 1, belonging to Reggie Watts, who was also sporting an awesome "FU" T-shirt
Number of people who shouted out the name of the movie before playing "North American Scum": 1, Arcade Fire's Win Butler
Arcade Fire's most awkward dancer: Win Butler
References to Kanye West's Twitter account: 1
Number of times James Murphy just loses it and bawls onscreen when it hits him it's all over: 1, when he's looking at all the gear in storage
Number of SPIN writers who misted up: What? Who? You were! We're not crying!
Number of times James Murphy tells his taxi driver, "Williamsburg, second exit off the bridge" en route to the band's dinner: 3
Number of bald heads focused on during "Losing My Edge": Like, 40
Number of "sad statues" the band's manager presents to Murphy the day after the show: 1 small replica of MSG
What James Murphy ultimately wanted to do with LCD: "To leave a mark. To leave a stain."