The title of this documentary about LCD Soundsystem's last concert, a sold-out blowout at Madison Square Garden, is intended to be ironic.
Despite winning multiple Grammys and achieving universal critical acclaim, LCD Soundsystem, an electronic rock act fronted by James Murphy, can't exactly claim to be a Billboard hit machine. The band's singles, such as Daft Punk Is Playing at My House, Yeah or North American Scum, are on the playlists of hipsters and club kids, but not on mainstream radio.
However, with the release of 2011's This Is Happening, the band seemed poised to reach a new level of success. So it was surprising when Murphy announced that LCD Soundsystem would be disbanding after a final farewell. (Murphy performs most of the instruments on the albums, and recruits a recurring group of musicians to play the songs live on tours.)
Shut Up and Play the Hits is both a document of the 24 hours on either side of that last concert and a rumination on the nature of celebrity. The two halves don't necessarily work equally well -- the latter seems like an attempt to graft more meaning onto a concert film -- but the soft-spoken, intelligent Murphy certainly has insight into the perils of fame and reasons to want to avoid them, and his conflict about his own choices and the way they will be perceived -- Pretentious? Timely? -- is a window into his analytical personality.
What little dialogue there is mostly consists of Murphy talking to culture critic Chuck Klosterman, in an interview in which he attempts to dissect his reasons for quitting at the top -- or, more accurately, within sight of some attainable higher peak.
"When you think about rock stars, like when you think about David Bowie, you think he's from Mars. Like, in my mind, he was from outer space, he wasn't a real person..." says Murphy. "The best you could get was just to act like them but you'd never be like them."
With his doughy face and greying stubble, Murphy does not look much like a rock star, but he sure gets to act like one onstage, which raises the question of when acting becomes reality, and how tangled up image, performance and success are.
The concert footage is tremendous -- electrifying and jubilant and soulful. LCD fans who have not seen the band live may well be blown away by how warm it is, how organic. The albums can sound chilly, but onstage, the sound is more like Talking Heads.
And if Murphy has any doubts about his ability to connect with an audience on a cultural as well as a musical level, they must be dispersed by the crowd's reaction, which ranges from rapture to tears.
But in between the shots of the gig, we see Murphy in anti-climactic post-show mode, shambling around his apartment in pyjama pants, walking his dog Petunia, making coffee and generally seeming at loose ends.
Despite all his soul-searching and analysis, you can't help but wonder if he wishes he were more like Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, able to embrace fame and just keep playing the hits.