For years Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense” has been the standard for concert films. Many have tried but rarely succeeded. Too often filmmakers try to make too much of the behind the scenes nonsense while others struggle to capture the essence of a band’s live performances. Demme’s masterpiece helped spring The Talking Heads to a wider audience by using groundbreaking techniques to highlight the band’s artistic tendencies.
Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace’s co-directed “Shut Up And Play the Hits,” should have done the same for LCD Soundsystem; however, there is no band for the film to catapult. This 2012 documentary, which is now widely available on many streaming services and On Demand, chronicles the American band’s farewell show at Madison Square Garden. This month, they released a 5 LP version of the concert as well.
The brainchild of James Murphy, LCD Soundsytem released only three studio albums- all of which received significant critical praise while garnering a few Grammy nominations. The band was at the height of their popularity when Murphy announced that they were disbanding and would perform one final show on April 2, 2011 at New York’s “boxing ring.” The announcement caught fans of the band in disbelief and asking why? This brilliant film, amongst other things, attempts to answer such a puzzling inquiry.
Murphy is clearly a talented musician that proves even more entertaining in live performance. Though there are no David Byrne-like big suits, Murphy’s commanding presence on stage gives the performance video significant substance, but what separates this film is the action and words interspersed by the directors. Instead of random scenes of the band’s life, the movie becomes a touching eulogy for not just a band but a moment of time in one’s life.. Following Murphy for 48 hours before and after the show, the audience sees what it means to be a rock star and to deal with one’s mortality in spite of the musician’s legacy. Murphy is at part conflicted and thrilled to go out on top and his self-introspection is rewarding to viewers on rare level for concert films.
The basis for much of the interplay is a conversation he has with pop chronicler Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman, himself has a rather cult following as a essayist on pop culture and author of numerous books including the irreplaceable “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs,” proves to be a proper foil for Murphy and their conversation is at times riveting and revealing as he explores what’s inside Murphy mind at this pivotal time.
The context of the film becomes much more than a farewell concert as Murphy and his band mates reach rare sonic air. At times supported by members of Arcade Fire, the show is technically far superior to The Band’s in “The Last Waltz” and as engaging as Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World” minus the theatrics. LCD’s CDs were strong documents, however the expansiveness of their live shows sets them apart and puts them on par with Roxy Music and Talking Heads for craftsmanship.
Watching this film, you will get a sense of the power of music with the dynamic live performances which will have you dancing in your living room but you’ll also be moved intellectually by the humanness of the artist behind the scenes.
At the end of the film there is a shot of a young fan caught in deep emotional abyss as the realization of the band’s final song sinks in. In concert films, you have seen a thousand crowd shots but few will speak to you like this parting scene.