The line to get into the South by Southwest debut of Shut Up And Play The Hits snaked down a city block from a repurposed Spaghetti Warehouse on an atypically cold, wet day in Austin. Attendees received Nike T-shirts and all the Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka they could drink as they seated themselves in the 225-capacity VEVO Theater to watch the documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden last spring, which was one of New York’s most highly anticipated musical events of 2011. Little separated the crowd at the screening from that at April’s show. They shared an approximate male-to-female ratio (3-1), drunk “Woo!”-ing girls (one very enthusiastic woman, who, as soon as the lights dimmed, yelled “James Murphy, cum on my face!”), and fashion sense (black and white). Just like the MSG show, not everyone who wanted to get in could make it through the door.
Filmmakers Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern assembled a large crew to document the April 2nd, 2011 Madison Square Garden performance, then followed bandleader James Murphy the following day in an effort to show just what a man does the day after putting a deliberate end to his critically acclaimed and beloved band. As the titles run, feedback soundtracks out-of-focus shots of emotional audience members and the breakdown of the stage set. Then, in silence, the scene switches to Murphy’s apartment the morning after. Performance and backstage footage alternates throughout with Murphy’s day after and several scenes in which he’s interviewed by writer Chuck Klosterman prior to the show.
Klosterman poses several extremely broad questions to Murphy (How does he feel about talking about himself? What does he consider his biggest failure?). Thanks to Murphy’s desire to clarify his actions, his answers come across as thoughtful and straightforward, as befits one of the few artists in popular music capable of creating such an intense emotional connection with their audience. Grown men weep openly and proudly to “All My Friends.” There is nothing circumspect about “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision/For another five years of life” or “I can change, I can change, I can change/If it helps you fall in love.” And while “Losing My Edge” is self-mocking, it expresses the very real feelings of a musician confronting his own inevitable obsolescence.
After penultimate number “Jump Into The Fire,” there’s a cut to Murphy returning the next day to the equipment room. It’s a wide shot of him in the middle of the room, standing there still and quiet. The moment is unexpected and affecting. Murphy may have not realized what he was getting himself into by calling it quits; while he had a heavy sense of responsibility towards his band’s legacy, and sincerely wanted to move forward in life, his surety clearly didn’t stop him from grieving the end of the band.
The live footage is amazing. During the Q&A they mentioned that they didn’t want filmmakers who had a lot of experience shooting live shows and would therefore have an established way of filming a performance. Watching the band play is good, but sometimes watching the crowd and the scope of the venue is even better. One of the best crowd shots goes up into the rafters and rests for a moment on the retired Knicks jerseys, and if you were there, you might think an LCD Soundsystem T-shirt should be up there with them.
Some audience members literally couldn’t sit still for the duration of the screening and took to the aisles during the live numbers. It was hard to fault them, what with the fantastic, chair-shaking sound installed in the venue. Twice, the audience burst into applause after songs. It’s impossible to watch Shut Up And Play The Hits without being eager to see the upcoming full concert video, which, if there’s any way to do it, should be screened in IMAX venues where the seats have been replaced with a dance floor.