There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition coversShut Up and Play the Hits, which is streaming over atAmazon Prime.
It’s been almost five years to the day since LCD Soundsystem hung up their dance punkpanda masks, and just under a week since they collectively clocked back in this past Sunday. Front man and de facto group mastermind James Murphy, opting to neither burn out nor fade away, took the highest of high roads and decided to go out in style with a career-spanning marathon (three intermissions!) of music and surprise guests at Madison Square Garden. It’s around this sold-out bon-voyage bacchanal which Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace based their excellent filmShut Up and Play the Hits.
The footage from that April night five years back (which looks and sounds absolutely incredible here) would be worth the price of admission alone, but Lovelace and Southern have higher aspirations than just a simple concert film. Weaving in three separate approaches to their subject, they manage to present a well-rounded contextualization of this supposedly final moment in the life of LCD Soundsystem. We get a dozen or so songs from the final show along with surprise appearances from Arcade Fire and Reggie Watts, but the filmmakers also follow Murphy around town for the come-down morning-after following that climactic performance. Being on the other side of something as large and beloved as LCD Soundsystem coming to an end is the sort of bittersweet heaviness you rarely experience in real life, and those swirling emotions are gracefully communicated in a number of scenes. From the getting warm and well-earned congratulations from the band’s manager, Keith Wood, to breaking down in tears at the now-useless rehearsal space, to poking through decade old polaroids at his DFA record label offices, the roller coaster of realizations is on display in ways both big and small that manage to stick with the you.
While that morning-after footage acts as the beating heart of the film, and the pulsing energy of the concert footage provides interstitial forward momentum, the objective-focused brain ofShut Up and Play the Hitsis represented by the extended interview between Murphy and pop-culture essayist Chuck Klosterman. These sequences (whichre-enact, almost verbatim, an interview Klosterman did with Murphya year earlier) form the sturdy and well-organized frame around which the rest of the film is grounded. Functionally, it’s a kind of “interview as performance,” but Klosterman’s well-thought out questions prompt Murphy into topics like accusations of pretension ("Even if you read Gravity's Rainbow out of pretension, you still read Gravity's Rainbow"), his feelings on perceived fame ("I don't want to be a famous person"), and why he’s deciding to hang it up after three albums ("Life is a big reason”).
It’s interesting to revisit this film with the knowledge that James Murphy would eventually get the band back together to take on 2016’s summer festival circuit. When asked by Klosterman what the biggest failure of the band was, a week before that Madison Square Garden show, Murphy reveals a pretty big crack in his resolve when he confides that breaking the band up too early might be that thing he’s going to regret. While the shows last weekend at Webster Hall officially brought an end to LCD Soundsystem’s self-imposed five-year hiatus and taking a bit of the punch out ofShut Up and Play the Hits, it still stands up as an incredible document of a guy wrestling with his decision to stop doing something he loves, however momentary it might have ended up being.