Directed by Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern. 14A. 110 min. July 18 and 19 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Though some rockers may wake up after the biggest show of their careers in a pile of empty Cristal bottles and snoring groupies, LCD Soundsystem leader James Murphy has a rather less glamorous kind of morning. In the opening scene of Shut Up and Play the Hits—Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s doc on the events surrounding the band’s final gig at Madison Square Garden last year—we see him drag himself out of bed and trundle outside his apartment building to let his dog have a pee. The fact that he does so while wearing plaid pyjama bottoms is further proof that Murphy would never have been happy in Mötley Crüe.
On the other hand, he is clearly content to make a danceable racket in LCD Soundsystem, so it’s understandable to hear him express mixed emotions over his decision to call it quits. Murphy’s predilection for tortured self-analysis is exhibited in the interview with journalist Chuck Klosterman excerpted in the film. In a restaurant a few days before the final concert, the two earnestly grapple with questions about art, ambition, integrity, and the ugly business of growing older.
While these interludes add a note of wracked-hipster introspection that fits with the sensibility that Murphy established with his band’s first single in 2002—the prescient “Losing My Edge”—they also drain away some of the energy found in the performance sequences. A special guest at the Garden show, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler has a point when he interrupts Murphy’s between-song prattle with the line that Lovelace and Southern borrow for their film’s title. Indeed a little less talk and a little more action might have landed Shut Up and Play the Hits in the pantheon of great concert movies. That said, the exuberance and exhilaration captured in the thunderous rendition of “Us v Them” or the propulsive cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” would not seem half as potent if the film didn’t acknowledge the more melancholy feelings that arrive in the wake of all those good times.