Top 10 Concert Films
We all love a good studio album, but fans of the best rock bands will always tell you there’s no substitute for seeing ’em live — even if, given the vagaries of touring schedules and the ever-climbing cost of concert tickets, that isn’t always possible. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of live albums to help us get a little closer to the stage with our favorite artists, and for that added extra bit of verisimilitude, there’s nothing like a well-filmed concert documentary.
The next time you’re in the mood to watch a classic rock artist tear it up in front of a screaming crowd, reach for one of these movies — whether you’re looking for killer riffs, psychedelic soundscapes, or all-star action, you can’t go wrong with our list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Concert Films.
This 2009 DVD release from the venerable Texas trio isn't usually mentioned in the same breath as concert film classics like 'The Last Waltz,' but we're including it here for two reasons: One, it rocks (especially the 1980 half), and two, how many bands of ZZ Top's vintage have the cojones to release a recent live performance alongside one from their young-and-hungry era? If you can keep the same lineup together for more than 40 years and emerge just as bad and/or nationwide as you ever were, then you deserve a spot in this list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Concert Films, and 'Double Down Live: 1980 & 2008' is high-octane proof.
You could make the argument that Talking Heads aren't classic rock in the truest sense, and it's true that their music, at least in the beginning of their career, was a deconstructionist take on accepted rock formula. But the band's best music has aged gracefully -- and if you love concert films, your library simply must include 'Stop Making Sense,' director Jonathan Demme's brilliantly simple presentation of the band during three live performances in 1983.
If you're any kind of rock fan, you know all the knocks against 'The Song Remains the Same': It's bloated, self-indulgent, larded up with silly fantasy sequences and overlong performances of Led Zeppelin songs. But at their peak, Zeppelin were nothing if not bloated and self-indulgent; it was part of what gave their music its epic heft, and it's a key ingredient in this movie's majesty. Jimmy Page later called it "not a great film" and Robert Plant dismissed it as "bollocks," but if you want to see Zeppelin in all their '70s glory, 'The Song Remains the Same' is the best place to start.
Pink Floyd have always been fairly ambivalent about their relationship with concert crowds, so it's only fitting that for 1972's 'Live at Pompeii' concert film, they took the unusual step of filming it without an audience. While it's far from the longest movie on our list (the original cut clocked in at an hour) or the, uh, livest, 'Pompeii' offers a behind-the-scenes look at the band during their early period, as well as (admittedly doctored) studio footage from the 'Dark Side of the Moon' sessions.
The Rolling Stones long ago passed the point where every tour automatically comes with a live album and/or concert DVD, which makes it easy to be blase about getting yet another chance to see them run down their greatest hits in front of an audience. But 2008's 'Shine a Light' is something special; not only does it capture the band on tour promoting their 'A Bigger Bang' LP, which contained some of the strongest songs Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had written in years, but it found them working with director Martin Scorsese, whose inimitable eye assembled a thrilling live document that also served as an admirably comprehensive portrait of the Stones' illustrious history. Plus, if you were lucky enough to catch it in theaters, 'Shine a Light' showed in IMAX, blowing up Jagger's legendary lips to appropriately mythic proportions.
'Concert for George'
Held on the first anniversary of George Harrison's death, 'Concert for George' collected an impressive list of the former Beatle's friends and family for a live celebration of his life's work. As entertaining as it is moving, 'Concert for George' serves up solid cover versions of some of Harrison's finest songs, plus a comic interlude featuring former members of Monty Python -- making it the only concert film that lets you hear 'Sit on My Face' and 'Here Comes the Sun' as part of the same set list.
The critic Robert Christgau lauded 'Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll' as "a wickedly funny and moving rock-doc classic, exposing Berry the money-grubbing control freak without devaluing his genius in the process." That's as good a way as any to sum up the appeal of this movie, most of which was filmed at a pair of all-star concerts held in 1986 to celebrate Chuck Berry's 60th birthday. Featuring appearances from Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and a long list of Berry's famous peers, 'Hail!' lets viewers witness something like a flashback to the birth of rock -- all stylishly directed by Taylor Hackford, who'd go on to helm the Oscar-nominated Ray Charles biopic 'Ray.'
Filmed by a crew that included 'Don't Look Back' director D.A. Pennebaker and 'Gimme Shelter' co-director Albert Maysles, 'Monterey Pop' takes viewers inside the once-in-a-lifetime concert event that was the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival -- including performances from the Who, Jefferson Airplane, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, whose set concluded with Hendrix's legendary guitar-burning finale. At a slender 79 minutes, 'Monterey Pop' is shorter than many concert films, but it earns a spot in our Top 10 Classic Rock Concert Films because it packs a ton of entertainment into its relatively brief running time.
"It started as a concert," teased the poster's tagline. "It became a celebration." That's as good a way as any to describe 'The Last Waltz,' Martin Scorsese's lavishly filmed tribute to the Band -- with a crazy guest list that included Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and many, many more, the group bid farewell to the stage in style, leaving rock fans with a concert film for the ages.
While it's certainly muddier and hippier than most concert films, 'Woodstock' is also just plain better -- not only because it collects an assemblage of classic artists from late-'60s rock, preserving some of the era's most memorable performances for Technicolor posterity, but because it serves as a reminder of the promise and potential that, for many, were bound up in the music of the moment. A fitting cap to our list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Concert Films -- watch it and you'll never look at a peace sign the same way again.