LCD Soundsystem is my favorite band. Their “final” concert at Madison Square Garden in 2011 was my first exposure to the band. Before their reunion in 2016, Shut Up and Play the Hits and the excellent companion LP The Long Goodbye were my only tastes of what the band sounded like live. Even after having seen the band live twice, the film loses none of its initial power.
The documentary focuses not only on the show itself, but also the 48 hours surrounding it as well as an interview between frontman James Murphy and writer Chuck Klosterman. The documentary’s overarching question is stated through a moment on the Colbert Report featured early in the film: Why walk away at the height of your popularity? It turns out Murphy doesn’t know the answer. He doesn’t need to.
Much of the film juxtaposes two of its three focuses against one another. The concert footage, well-edited by itself, is often followed up by Murphy sitting in his apartment with his absolutely adorable pug or in the DFA Records office. Likewise, the film doesn’t show the interview between Murphy and Klosterman that often, opting to use it as voiceover. The interview very rarely shows up as voiceover over any of the concert footage, though, and it’s a wise decision; the concert footage is the best part of the documentary.
The one exception is “Losing My Edge,” a song about aging that requires a bit of context anyway. The music itself is mixed fairly well, although the mix is better on The Long Goodbye LP. In the film, the music is slightly more muddled and distorted when compared to the LP. Play the Hits functions as a great primer on the music of LCD Soundsystem. It lets the best form of their music shine through and stand on its own.
Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace perfectly capture the frenetic energy, lights and sounds of an LCD Soundsystem show. They let the music and the faces in the crowd speak for themselves, especially during “All My Friends”. The song pops up way too early in the setlist and film. The editing during the concert is fantastic. It bounces the different members of the band and various guests that appeared that night, such as Reggie Watts and Arcade Fire. However, outside of the aforementioned “All My Friends,” the editing and cinematography don’t focus on the crowd quite as much during the show itself. That’s a shame, because LCD Soundsystem shows generally have great crowds.
Even for a huge LCD Soundsystem fan, this documentary is worth a watch simply for the size and scope of the concert. For someone not so acquainted with the band, it’s even moreso worthwhile as an introduction to the band and its music.