9 Concert Films That Will Tide You Over Until the Real Thing Comes Back
Published Jun 25, 2020By now, we're so deep into our socially isolated lives due to COVID-19 that we're starting to forget what going to concerts feel like. And while certain aspects of life are returning to normal, experts expect that it's going to be quite a while before we get to attend a concert in real life. Fortunately, there's an entire history of concert films ready to scratch the itch.
From streamable classics to oddities that warrant hunting down the physical release, there are all kinds of filmed concerts that come close to recreating the magic of IRL music. Hell, some of these even transcend the format and become something special of their own.
We miss you, and would even be okay with joining you in the line for a Port-a-Potty if we had the choice. But until then, these 9 concert films will hopefully suffice.
The Last Waltz (1978)
Forty years since the release of Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, the film remains just as strong a capsule of the Band's peak years as ever. A number of late musicians make formidable appearances in the flick, from Levon Helm and Rick Danko to Dr. John and Muddy Waters, not to dismiss their living counterparts, namely, Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Ronnie Hawkins for their equally iconic contributions. The venture is a veritable history book of rock music's greatest minds, documenting definitive performances of the Band's "The Weight," "The Shape I'm in," "Ophelia" and Young's "Helpless." Expertly shot, grandiose while also intimate, The Last Waltz is an impossibly perfect concert film in spite of its ragged edge and conflicting personalities.
The documentation of Beyoncé's monumental 2018 Coachella performance — the one that earned the name "Beychella" for its triumph as one of the most impressive performances in the festival's history — came just on heels of the world collectively catching its breath one year later, in the form of Homecoming. Produced, directed, written and starring Bey herself, the film shows all the hard work leading up to her iconic double-weekend performances; the choreography, the dancers, cameos and Bey's home life play the lead alongside the gargantuan live concert itself, which featured renditions of her classic catalogue cuts ("Crazy in Love," "Baby Boy," "Drunk in Love"), as well as some then-fresh Lemonade hits like "Formation," "Sorry" and "Don't Hurt Yourself." In its candour and scale, Homecoming will likely go down as the most transcendent concert film of our generation.
The Beastie Boys
Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! (2006)
Directed by the late Adam Yauch under his wacky Nathaniel Hörnblowér moniker, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! is yet another testament to the Beastie Boys' ceaseless ability to think outside of the box. Shot at Madison Square Garden, the concert film was made by handing out 50 camcorders to different audience members. The result is something that many Amazon reviewers have described as making them feel "seasick," but it's also the most realistic possible interpretation of a modern concert experience. It's also an impossible-to-recreate document representing one of the most important bands in the history of alternative music.
Never Say Never (2011)
Directed by Jon M. Chu, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is an endearing concert film that reminds us of the power pre-teen girls possess as a fanbase. Following Justin Bieber around 10 days prior to his sold-out show at Madison Square Garden, the film also takes viewers on a personal journey through Bieber's life prior to fame, including snippets of young Bieber playing guitar and singing his sweet heart out, as well as Bieber sharing genuine moments with his family and friends. The film really brings you back to your youth and nostalgia runs high reminiscing on when we could freely go to live shows.
Rush in Rio (2003)
Long before "Come to Brazil" echoed throughout the internet, Rush wrapped their emotional Vapor Trails tour with three shows in the South American country — two of which featured the largest crowds of their career. Rush In Rio captures a performance to 40,000 people at Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã Stadium. Reflecting on the performance in DVD release liner notes, late drummer and lyricist Neil Peart would identify a "unified, intense, pulsing energy" amongst all in attendance — especially palpable as the crowd sing their hearts out to beloved instrumental "YYZ."
"That night's show had 40,000 stars," Peart wrote. "No doubt we were inspired and elevated by that amazing audience, who gave back so much excitement, energy, and volume… Extraordinary they were, and we dedicate this performance, then and now, to them."
Ashes of American Flags (2009)
Thanks to their storied live shows, it can be easy to forget that Wilco's not-so-secret weapon, jazz guitarist Nels Cline, all but completely missed out on the band's critical heyday — he and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone didn't join the band until 2004, and didn't appear on record until 2007's Sky Blue Sky. Ashes of American Flags gives tracks from Wilco's best records, including Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, fresh makeovers with plenty of frenetic Cline riffage, showing firsthand why Wilco didn't just survive being relegated to the "dad rock" bin but have thrived in it.
Dave Chapelle's Block Party (2005)
Taking a break from his twee, papier-mâché explorations of existence, director Michel Gondry teamed up with comedian Dave Chappelle to capture the magic of a very specific era of hip-hop. There are too many highlights to count, but among them is Kanye West performing with a marching band and Lauryn Hill reuniting the Fugees onstage. Other artists that appear include Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, the Roots, Common, Dead Prez and John Legend, among many others.
The White Stripes
Under Blackpool Lights (2004)
Third Man Records' quarterly Vault packages have meant that there's now no shortage of White Stripes concert films and albums, but their first film is still the most definitive. Captured in 2004 — when "Seven Nation Army" was blowing up, but before it became an anthem chanted in soccer stadiums — it perfectly captures the controlled chaos of their live show. Performing without a setlist, and barely pausing for breather as they string together breakneck medleys, this is Jack and Meg at their most urgent and vital. Okay, so Jack's split-colour pants make him look a better like a punk rock jester, but the grainy film quality is the perfect complement for their primal garage-blues anthems.
Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
Yes, Rust Never Sleeps sees Neil Young and Crazy Horse blast through their gritty anthems in all their ragged glory, but it also demonstrates Young's timelessness by connecting him to other bits and pieces of the zeitgeist. The title came from the band DEVO, who are further paid homage to through shots of his crew members wearing DEVO suits. There are also, strangely, Star Wars Jawas walking around the stage. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the film stands as a perfect document of a perfect era of Neil Young.