music / Columns

The 411 Music Top Five 01.08.13: The Top 5 Concert Films

January 8, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas


5. Jimi Hendrix – Live at the Isle of Wight 1970

It’s a trick to find, but a must-see, if possible.

More importantly than anything else, it serves as testament that Hendrix was never in his life anything short of spectacularly combustible with a six-string in his hands, right up to his life’s end. To put a fine point on the historical significance for those who didn’t raise an eyebrow immediately at its conclusion, this was Hendrix’s very last live performance – literally taking the stage at England’s Isle of Wight Festival one degree from the very edge of time.

Shot in the middle of the night less than three weeks before a drug overdose took his life, the nonstop set finds Hendrix fatigued by his middle-of-the-night performance but still delivering a most engrossing take on “Red House” but variously impaired otherwise. Even then, it’s worth at least a one-time glimpse to see Hendrix as many did this final time.

4. Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – Live At The El Mocambo 1983

There may very well be no more memorable Stevie Ray Vaughan performance than this one.

Factor in the Montreaux Jazz Festival sets that bookend his legacy. Factor in the two Austin City Limitsf performances.

This one, filmed in Toronto not at all long after the band released Texas Flood, crystalizes every single intangible that broke Vaughan free from his contemporaries and even his influences even then. SRV sets foot upon another plane from the very first notes, with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton the only mustangs that could match him step-for-step all the way. From there, he delivers exceptional renditions of the tender “Lenny,” shuffling “Pride & Joy” and rhythm-and-blues-inflected “Mary Had A Little Lamb” among others that define Vaughan as a spiritual breed apart from every blues guitarist before or since.

However, it’s the rendition of Vaughan’s signature “Texas Flood” alone that makes this worth witnessing. It’s a sonic tsunami of soul, sound and fury unlike any other performance of the cover he that he would ever deliver.

3. The Up In Smoke Tour

The tour is a hip-hop moment frozen in time. The film, a portrait of four legendary MCs at pivotal points in their careers.

Dr. Dre was in the midst of a defiant, seemingly unlikely resurgence following the explosion of his classic third solo album, 2001. His one-time protégé Snoop Dogg had long since cemented his place as an iconic rapper with inimitable flow and charisma, but no longer exactly amid the prime of his creative powers. By this point, Ice Cube was arguably as respected as an actor as for his rhymes.

Then there was Eminem. Guided by Dre himself, The Marshall Mathers LP had guaranteed that the controversial Detroit white boy wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, it solidified his distinctive presence and portraiture with a bona fide classic album that can’t even be called “influential” because there’s really been nothing quite like it since.

More than anything else, the film captures Dre himself performing among the spirits of his career’s past, present and future.

2. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones

The best concert films capture artists at pivotal points in their powers – the “Where were you when…?” moments. When it comes to The Rolling Stones, few moments were so poignant, so influential in their career as the release of Exile on Main St. — to many, their definitive apex.

This performance was recording as part of a four-show kick in Fort Worth and Houston, Texas, during the Stones’ 1972 American tour. Just as they were on the album they were supporting, the Stones were arguably never better live than at this juncture.

There’s nothing quite like it for experiencing the lightning in a bottle that was The Rolling Stones at their hardest, dirtiest and sharpest.

1. The Last Waltz

This is really very simple.

The above-mentioned films, while compelling, portray portraits of artists at turnings of their tides.

Between Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Muddy Waters, and of course Bob Dylan performing one “final” time alongside celebrated sideman Robbie Robertson and The Band, this is quite simply a panorama of a musical epoch the world hadn’t before witnessed, hasn’t witnessed since, and the likes of which may never quite be experienced again.

5. U2 – Rattle and Hum

This might have been the first rock documentary I had ever seen, released when I was a teenager and a huge fan of U2 during their early days. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I had even been to a rock concert before this fact, so this was all something very new to me. This actually played in theaters at the time, so I got to see it on the big screen and my memories of that are still pretty cool. Since then, I have re-watched it on video and it’s still a pretty great experience of the band when I loved them the most.

4. Iron Maiden – Flight 666

The filmmakers behind the documentary, Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, cut their teeth on rockumentaries, working on both Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal. They were granted almost universal access to the band during the “Somewhere Back in Time” tour and present the film as both a fly on the wall as well as providing up close and personal interviews with members of the band and crew. They also give a great look as the fans help breathe life into the amazing Iron Maiden live performances. The band played 23 concerts in five continents over 45 days and this concert video shows at least one song from each of the 16 cities that they played. There are a lot of rockumentaries out there but this ranks right up there at the top with the best of them. The feature is fascinating and the concert is magnificent. This is the perfect heavy metal DVD.

3. The Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense

Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) made his own concert film in 1984 with Stop Making Sense, a documentary that focused on the Talking Heads. Demme shot the film at three different stage shows, Demme and the Talking Heads choosing to make the film much more impressionistic than one might expect from concert footage. The video itself was shot to replicate what it was like to actually watch the concert progressing. There were no MTV-styled cuts and camera movements, instead utilizing longer shots to allow the band’s performance to dominate the audience’s attention. The video also utilized the Talking Head’s ability to tell a story, making them the perfect subjects for a documentary directed by an auteur.

2. The Band – The Last Waltz

Martin Scorsese took his turn at creating a concert film, but much like Howard’s statement, Scorsese was less interested in the concert itself than he was with the story surrounding the show. The Last Waltz showcases the farewell appearance by the legendary music group, The Band. The concert also had numerous special guests, including Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, Neil Young and more. The film showcases musical performances from the show, as well as interviews with the people involved, specifically Robbie Robertson. Scorsese chose to focus on the fact that The Band was ending their relationship, mainly at the behest of Robertson himself. A masterful documentary, it deconstructed the end of a popular musical group, albeit mostly from the point of view of only one of the members.

1. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter

In 1970, the Rolling Stones were part of a rock concert shot by documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles. Gimme Shelter was more than just a simple concert film, though, as the Maysles brothers shot the lead-in and aftereffects of the Altamont Free Concert. While The Rolling Stones remained at the center of the movie, it also featured a look at some of the bands leading up to their performance, including Jefferson Airplane. What the movie remains most notable for is the inclusion of a murder. During the Stone’s performance of “Under My Thumb,” a fan named Meredith Hunter tried to get onto the stage. The security for the event was, inexplicably, members of the Hell’s Angels. When Hunter pulled a gun, a member of the biker gang stabbed him at least twice, killing him. It was a harrowing look at one of rock and roll’s black eyes, but was only part of a fantastic concert documentary.

The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We’re merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week’s topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
4. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
3. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
2. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
1. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it


article topics

Jeremy Thomas
comments powered by Disqus