When you’re infatuated with a band, exploring their musical catalogue is only half the fun. The other half is plumbing their mythology—why’d the first drummer quit? Did the guitarist really feud with the bassist? And how did these players ever find each other?
For the super-fan, YouTube has been a boon, pulling together formal documentaries, backstage footage, and assorted clips spanning genres and decades. Whether you’re hunting for details on the Minutemen, or hoping to catch a liquored-up Keith Richards churn out riffs, these are the four best band documentaries currently streaming on YouTube.
1. Gimme Shelter
The Rolling Stones
This 1970 film is equal parts concert footage, ’60s debauchery, and stark political commentary. Gimme Shelter spotlights the Stones’ infamous Altamont Free Concert, where unruly crowds and abundant narcotics culminated in mayhem and the death of Meredith Hunter by the hands of Hells Angels. As compelling as the drama is, the documentary’s highlights—unsurprisingly—are the live performance segments. Jagger preens and careens around the stage, Richards broods and gyrates, and Watts beats away with his signature stone-faced affect.
2. We Jam Econo
We Jam Econo is the charming story of an extraordinary band. The film traces the intertwining histories of bassist Mike Watt, guitarist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley, with their unassuming, blue-collar ethos as the guiding doctrine. “We Jam Econo” packs a range of emotion into 90 minutes, from the mania of their live shows to the brotherhood between members to the tragedy of D. Boon’s untimely death. A warning to the sensitive: the film’s final minutes, with Watt and Hurley recalling their late friend, is heartbreaking.
3. Funky Monks
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Funky Monks is a window into the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ most celebrated era—the writing and recording of 1991’s Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik. It’s also a look at the bacchanal lifestyle that fueled it: ample drugs, peerless braggadocio and salacious behavior. The filmmaker, Gavin Bowden, approached his project just right, with a writer’s maxim as his guiding force: Show, don’t tell. And one of the things we’re shown is a young John Frusciante teetering on the edge of addiction. “It’s like I’m in the fourth dimension… no words, no symbols, no images; all pure, real energy and vibrations,” a stoned Frusciante rambles at the start of the documentary.
4. The Year Punk Broke
Sonic Youth and Nirvana
1991 was a seminal year for punk rock, and “The Year Punk Broke” highlights its trek from the underground to the mainstream. The film blends backstage antics with live performances, offering an authentic glimpse at the vicissitudes of now-legendary indie groups. Some highlights: Kurt Cobain performing interpretive dance to Thurston Moore’s beat boxing; a young J Mascis jesting about possible love children; and Matt Lukin of Mudhoney delivering an endearing “Hi, Mom” into the camera.