The great concert films manage to bottle the colour and excitement of a live show, enabling fans to relive them again and again. Here are 29 of the best.
Talking Heads – ‘Stop Making Sense’: The definitive concert movie? Possibly. 30 years after release, Jonathan Demme’s spectacle remains a spell-binding filmic interpretation of David Byrne’s wiry post-punk, defying the growing cliches of MTV, which launched three years earlier, with arty flourishes. The band spent $1.2m developing digital audio technology for the film, so it sounds ace too.
Beastie Boys – ‘Awesome; I Fucking Shot That!’: An iconic NY band at the Big Apple’s most recognisable venue, Madison Square Gardens, would have been spectacle enough. Never ones to settle, the trio instead made this 2006 release a crowd-sourced novelty, stitched together from footage from over 50 super-fans, given cameras, scattered around the venue and told to keep filming no matter what.
Radiohead – ‘Live in Praha’: Similar to the Beasties’ effort but more DIY and fan-driven, scores of Radiohead fans at a 2009 Prague show decided to film the show on portable cameras, later matching the footage to sound-desk audio of the group’s ‘In Rainbows’-heavy set. Immersive and testament to the creativity Radiohead inspire; no wonder Thom gave the internet release his blessing.
The Cribs – ‘Live at the Brudenell Social Club’: Leeds’ prodigal sons return to the city’s greatest venue, the Brudenell – the hub of a defiant local punk scene stretching back to Gang of Four. The Jarman brothers do that heritage proud in this 2008 release, bouyed by a raucous festive atmosphere – the gig was the trio’s 2007 homecoming.
The Prodigy – ‘World’s On Fire’: 65,000 fans flocked to see Liam Howlett’s gang of dance antagonists cement their counterculture hero status with a career-spanning set at July 2010’s Warrior’s Dance festival, where they shot this powerful feature film. Released a year later, the noisy thrills are every bit as visceral on film as they were at the show, thanks to some no-nonsense direction.
Rolling Stones – ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus’: Rock’s own PT Barnum Mick Jagger devised this Big Top-themed live movie, shot in the Stones’ ’68 prime. Featuring performances from a variety of other huge names, John Lennon among them, the band initially witheld the film, reportedly upset that the Who’s set upstaged theirs. It eventually surfaced in 1996.
REM – ‘TourFilm’: Having reached new levels of jangly, melancholic indie greatness in 1988 with ‘Green’, REM hit the road in North America, where they shot the much-loved ‘TourFilm’: an exciting avant-garde twist on the concert film formula. No backstage gubbins; no puffy band interviews; just hits like ‘It’s The End Of The World…’, delivered with blockbuster conviction.
LCD Soundsystem – ‘Shut Up and Play The Hits’: New York bids farewell to homespun heroes LCD at a monumental, surprisingly heartstring-tugging Madison Square Garden show. The comic, semi-staged scenes between tracks, as James Murphy nervously gears up for life without LCD, are great; the songs, delivered with frantic, contagious energy, are even better.
Prince – ‘Sign O’ The Times’: In 1987, Prince decided to bolster flagging record sales with a live film, shot across five nights in Europe. Unhappy with the footage, however, the famous perfectionist scrapped 80% of footage, recreating most of the film under controlled conditions at his home studio. Not exactly the most raw and spontaneous concert film, then, but mesmerising nonetheless.
Neil Young – ‘Heart of Gold’: Another Jonathan Demme film, the ‘Harvest’ folk legend has scarcely sounded better than in this 1996 concert movie, pulling tracks from a stunning set in Nashville, complete with warming stories from Young about his childhood, spent in part working on a chicken farm.
Nirvana – Live At The Paramount’: Released in 2011, as part of ‘Nevermind’ 20th anniversary celebrations, this ’91 performance was shot on 16mm film, giving the movie a rawness fitting of Cobain’s throaty screams. From the opening guitar scrawl of ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam’ to ‘Endless, Nameless’, which featured only as a hidden track on ‘Nevermind’, it’s an essential for fans.
Jay Z – ‘Fade To Black’: 2004 was supposed to see Jay-Z bow out from music in a one-night spectacle at Madison Square Gardens, having decided to “retire from the industry”. Of course, that didn’t happen. But ‘Fade To Black’ still wows: a modern rap icon operating at his thrilling peak, bouyed by guest appearances from Beyoncé, R Kelly and Pharrell, to name a few.
Manic Street Preachers – ‘Everything Live’: Cited by Nicky Wire as the moment he knew the band had “made it”, this searing 1997 performance film, shot in Manchester, was a coming-of-age moment – proof of the group’s phenomenal resurgence following the disappearance of Richey Edwards and the next step on their unstoppable rise. An essential for any Manics fan.
The Band – ‘The Last Waltz’: Directed by Martin Scorsese, this “farewell concert” (they later reformed) captured a grand send-off for Levon Helm’s trail-blazers, bolstered by an array of big name guests, including Neil Young and Eric Clapton. The movie springs into action with the title card: “This film should be played loud!” Do as you’re told and you’re in for a roots rock treat.
The White Stripes – ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’: A behind-the-curtains look at Jack and Meg during a Canadian tour in 2007. The intimate glimpses of a normally secretive band relaxing backstage are worth watching alone, but it’s the raw, blistering live show that’s the real grabber, from the frantic ‘Blue Orchid’ to Jack’s piano-led take on ‘White Moon’ which reduces Meg to tears.
Led Zeppelin – ‘The Song Remains The Same’: A strange hybrid of concept film (including fantasy footage in which Robert Plant plays a valiant knight – it was the ’70s, okay?) and live concert, culled from three shows at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden. It’s less slick than 2007’s ‘Celebration Day’, but a much more bizarre look into the mindset of the ultimate rock’n’roll band.
Muse – ‘HAARP’: In 2010, we declared Muse’s ‘HAARP’ to be the 40th greatest live album ever. Little surprise, then, that the DVD version is similarly awe-inspiring: the sight of a band at the peak of their powers playing at a Wembley transformed into a giant sci-fi lab. A great, great spectacle.
Pink Floyd – ‘Live At Pompei’: One of the strangest concert films ever: prog masters Pink Floyd pitch up at a Roman ampitheatre in Italy and bash out a standard live set… only there are no audience there to witness it. It makes for a strange, eerie film in which the focus is solely on the band themselves.
Rolling Stones – ‘Shine A Light’: The Stones don’t do things by halves. Their 2008 live film was directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, splicing concert footage with backstage shots and archive clips. There’s also, strangely, a brief cameo from Christina Aguilera, who duets with Mick Jagger on ‘Live With Me’.
Michael Jackson – ‘This Is It’: A bittersweet concert film – some of the footage of Jackson rehearsing for his ill-fated ‘This Is It’ dates is a poignant reminder of the talent of one of the most iconic artists ever, but it’s overshadowed by the knowledge that the singer would die just 18 years before the tour was scheduled to begin.
Morrissey – ‘Who Put The M In Manchester?’: “Oh Manchester, nothing to answer for,” quips Moz towards the end of his homecoming set at Manchester Arena. “Please don’t forget me.” Fat chance of that, based on this evidence: Morrissey prancing and pouting to a thunderous reaction, and ploughing through his solo back catalogue with a few Smiths classics sprinkled in too.
The Chemical Brothers – ‘Don’t Think’: No gimmicks and no unnecessary flash here: just a band at the top of their game and bringing the big-guns, with a straight-up film of their headline set at Fuji Rocks from 2012 that encompassed ‘Star Guitar’, ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’, ‘Setting Sun’ and ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’.
The Cure – ‘In Orange’: A chance to see Robert Smith and his goth partners-in-crime at their world-crushing mid-80s peak. The likes of ‘Faith’ and ‘Primary’ sound unstoppably huge when booming out from France’s Theatre antique d’Orange.
Oasis – ‘There And Then’: In 1996, Oasis were arguably the biggest band on the planet. Here, three of their ‘Morning Glory’ tour shows (from Maine Road and two dates at London’s Earls Court) sound utterly huge: blasting through ‘Acquiesce’, bringing the sing-alongs in ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, and signing off with a cheeky cover of Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’.
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Live At The Apollo’: The start of a beautiful relationship between IT Crowd actor Richard Ayoade, who directed this film, and Alex Turner. The two would later team up for Ayoade’s sweet coming-of’age flick ‘Submarine’, but this is sweat-drenched and feral, as the Monkeys storm the Apollo with tracks from their first two studio albums.
Frank Zappa – ‘Baby Snakes’: A suitably spooky concert flick from Zappa’s 1977 Halloween gig in NYC, complete with strange stop motion clay animation. It was so out-of-sync with the normal gig film formula that Zappa, unable to shop it to any distributors, was forced to release it himself. Time has proved he knew exactly what he was doing, though.
The Velvet Underground And Nico – ‘A Symphony Of Sound’: A film that boasts one of the greatest closing scenes ever: the band’s rehearsal is interrupted by churlish policemen, who force the group to halt their improvised noodlings due to complaints. It looks great, too, shot in stylish black-and-white and directed by maverick genius Andy Warhol.
Sigur Ros – ‘Heima’: A hometown heroes reception for Sigur Ros, here, as the cult post-rock outfit tour around their native Iceland, ranging from two huge open-air shows to a protest gig and an acoustig gig for the benefit of friends and family in a coffee shop.
Monterey Pop Festival: D.A. Penebaker is a music film legend, having helmed fascinating documentaries on Bob Dylan and Depeche Mode among others. Here, he turns his sight to a whole festival: Monterey Pop in 1967, capturing performances from Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Otis Redding.