There’s nothing quite like a great live show. But thanks to concert films, we’re able to document and revisit some of our favorite performances. This list examines some of the best films in the genre taking into consideration the music, significance and how far they push boundaries of the art form.
Concert for George pays tribute to not only one the greatest musicians in history, but one of the freakin’ Beatles. The performance took place in honor of the first anniversary of George Harrison’s death, with Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne serving as musical directors.
The first half of the show focused on the traditional Indian music that was a deep interest of Harrison’s, while the latter half featured performances from legendary musicians such as fellow-Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as Clapton, Lynne and Tom Petty, among others.
In a unique experiment, camcorders were given to 50 audience members during a sold-out Beastie Boys concert at Madison Square Garden in 2004. The primary stipulation was that the amateur documentarians keep the cameras rolling at all times.
Directed by famed rock documentarian D. A. Pennebaker, Monterey Pop serves as a round-up of some of the best performances from the most important acts of the 1960s. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival hosted the infamous concert where Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire as if performing the ritual of a voodoo shaman.
The Michael Jackson concert that never happened is captured in the film This Is It. Although Jackson’s planned series of concerts was cancelled after his untimely death just a short time before the first show, much of the rehearsal was caught on film. The footage captures much of Jackson’s vision as well as his perfectionist nature. This Is It exists as a final portrait of a man who remained a dedicated artist from childhood up until his dying days.
Recorded after their highly acclaimed album Z, _Okonoko_s highlights performances from one of the best live acts in the country. Jim James, credited as producer up until the Okonokos live album, is here referred to as responsible for “concept/story.”
It was difficult to choose this film over the previous Stripes film Under Blackpool Lights, but now that The White Stripes are no more, this film is even more relevant. Under Great White Northern Lights documents one of the candy-coated duo’s last series of performances. The last scene of the film is even more touching now, knowing their fate, as it features Jack, seated at his piano with a weeping Meg on his shoulder, as he pounds out the chords and belts the words for “White Moon.” Perhaps they knew, even then, that their days together were short.
What band better represents an era rooted in digital information than virtual band Gorillaz? Demon Days: Live at Manchester Opera House keeps with the mysterious nature of the Damon Albarn’s music under the moniker, relying much more heavily on lights and projected images than the actual visual performance of the musicians. Several of the peformers, particularly Albarn, are silhouetted throughout the majority of the concert.
Live at Pompeii hosts some of the best performances from studio-rock pioneers Pink Floyd. The fact that the band just so happens to be playing at the site of Roman town-city that was completely buried/destroyed after a volcanic eruption only adds to the epic-ness.
After touring the world, Sigur Rós returned home to Iceland to play a series of free, unannounced concerts. The film not only captures the incredible performances from the band, but the beautiful countryside of Iceland as well. Although the music is breathtaking, it is by far not the best part of this film. The visuals are equally as astounding. Heima is what all modern concert films should aspire to be.
A camera follows David Byrne’s sneakers from backstage onto a bare set. A circa-1980s ghetto blaster drops at his feet. “Hi,” he says. “I got a tape I wanna play.” The tape starts, and we bare witness to a solo performance of “Psycho Killer” from Byrne as he seems to suffer a seizure onstage, stumbling around in a fit of insanity.
As the concert progresses, the bare stage is gradually filled by one band member after another, along with back up dancers, screens and costumes, including Byrne’s famous giant suit.
A disclaimer at the beginning of the film insists that “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD!” What follows is one of the most incredible sets of performances ever caught on film. After 16 years on the road, The Band decided to finally say goodbye. Farewell concerts have become extremely commonplace nowadays, and the farewell usually just lasts until the artist/group decides they want more money. But The Band knew how to say goodbye before saying goodbye was cool.
Held at The Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, the audience of 5,000 were served Turkey dinners before the floor was opened for ballroom dancing. For the actual performance, The Band invited some of their “friends” to help them turn the send-off into a celebration, including their first boss, Ronnie “The Hawk” Hawkins, and one of their most influential bosses, Bob Dylan. In between their former employers, the show featured performances from some of the biggest names in music, including Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and many more. The whole affair was documented by Martin Scorsese.