20 concert films that capture the best of live music, from NIN to Paramore
The dawning of our new normal — a world of postponement, rescheduling and uncertainty — showed us just how sacred live shows can be. Whether they’re experienced in person or at home in front of a screen, the collective energy fostered between an artist and their audience is the driving essence of live music. While we may have brushed off concert films in the past, today they’re much more than a recorded show. They can be a window into a genre’s early days or a chance to admire musicians who have since left us. They can even be an articulate, well-directed performance that adds more dimensions and emotions to the music. One can hope that there will be plenty more concert films produced in the coming years. But until then, these 20 must-watch concert films will help you pass the time.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Tell Me What Rockers To Swallow
Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a band whose live performances transcend a digital screen. Their 2004 concert film Tell Me What Rockers To Swallow was shot at The Fillmore — a historic San Francisco venue that was once the hub of the 1960s counterculture. For a band that have dominated the indie-alternative genre for over two decades, it’s no shocker that vocalist Karen O absolutely commands the stage with sharp movements and a flamboyant outfit. What’s more impressive is that the film was shot just a year after the band released their debut album, Fever To Tell, but that’s hardly noticeable with how well the band collectively own the night.
The Killers – The Killers: Live From The Royal Albert Hall
If "Mr. Brightside" spending five years on the U.K.'s Top 100 singles charts isn’t an indication that Britain loves the Killers, then their performance at Royal Albert Hall is. From opening number “Human” to their encore of “When You Were Young,” the band have an absolute hold on the crowd for the duration of the night. Vocalist Brandon Flowers feeds off the constant energy and movement exerted by the audience. He gives it back with an endearing performance. If there’s one recorded moment of pure joy, it's the audience’s reaction to the opening riff of "Mr. Brightside."
Pink Floyd – Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii
OK, there’s no audience in this film, but that doesn’t stop Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii from being one of the greatest musical performances of all time. The hour-long documentary is a stunning audio-visual experience of live music and footage of the fateful Roman city. The band’s experimental, space-rock sound eerily juxtaposes against the backdrop of the ancient amphitheater, making Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii one of the most groundbreaking concert films ever.
Fugazi – Instrument
Shot from 1987-1998, Instrument captures the musical evolution of hardcore-punk band Fugazi in real time. From footage of a performance at Lorton Correctional Facility to recording sessions of their 1995 album Red Medicine, Instrument shows Fugazi’s versatility and power through the punk scene of the 1980s and 1990s. The documentary proves to be more of a mosaic of the band, however, complete with concert footage, interviews, studio recordings, tours and rehearsals.
Nine Inch Nails – Nine Inch Nails: Beside You In Time
Nine Inch Nails' hold on alt-rock music extended well into the 2000s — clearly shown in their 2007 concert film Beside You In Time. Trent Reznor delivers pristine vocals during this two-show performance — some that closely compete with recorded versions of songs (e.g. "Closer"). Visually speaking, the lighting and background effects seamlessly coincide with the music and deliver the industrial-style punch NIN are most famous for.
Paramore – The Final Riot!
If you’re looking to step back in time to relive the 2000s pop-punk era, look no further than Paramore’s live concert film The Final Riot! Released in 2008, the concert film includes over an hour of live footage from the band’s 2008 The Final Riot! summer tour. The setlist is stacked with songs from All We Know Is Falling and Riot!
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
Known for impeccable cinematography and an iconic big suit, Stop Making Sense ranks as one of the most eccentric live performances ever. The hour-and-a-half film guides you through all the exuberance and absurdity of Talking Heads — from David Byrne’s outlandish dance choreography to him serenading a lamp. The beginning of the performance is a slow, gradual build toward a never-ending climax of post-punk vehemence.
Green Day – Bullet In A Bible
Any punk historian will tell you that American Idiot was a defining era in Green Day’s career. Not only was the album more overtly political, but it showed the trio was capable of tapping into a stadium-rock sound. It made them bigger than ever before. Shortly after the album’s release, Green Day performed their two biggest shows yet at the Milton Keynes National Bowl in England. Bullet In A Bible captures these shows of 100,000+ attendees and the band performing a theatrical, subversive set like never before.
Queen – Queen Rock Montreal
Riding the high of “Under Pressure” topping the charts in 1981 and a record-breaking tour of Latin America, Queen’s stop in Montreal is their only concert to be shot on film. As arguably the greatest frontman of all time, Freddie Mercury is nothing less than stunning in this performance (per usual). Viewing over an hour of high-quality footage feels almost surreal, given we’ve had to rely on old Live Aid footage or Bohemian Rhapsody for an intimate look at the band. However, Queen Rock Montreal is a rare window back in time to a world once dominated by Queen.
Fall Out Boy – Boys Of Zummer
Chicago natives Fall Out Boy head back to their hometown for The Boys of Zummer Tour: Live in Chicago for a career-defining performance. The concert film features a setlist filled with the band’s traditional pop-punk tracks, as well as post-hiatus anthems from Save Rock And Roll and American Beauty/American Psycho. The hometown heroes who once booked gigs at local Chicago clubs now perform in the city’s major arenas.
Nirvana – Nirvana: Live At The Paramount
In a period of calm before the storm, Nirvana: Live At The Paramount captures the trio on the cusp of dominating the music industry and the world as we know it. Recorded just five weeks after Nevermind’s release, the live show feels almost like indoctrination into a post-grunge world without the band’s legendary status yet.
Lou Reed – Lou Reed’s Berlin
Upon its initial release, Lou Reed’s 1973 album Berlin was never performed live by the former the Velvet Underground vocalist. That all changes with the release of Reed’s 2007 documentary/live concert film Lou Reed’s Berlin. The film covers five nights of shows in Brooklyn, New York, where Reed performs the melancholic album in its entirety. Despite being a commercial and critical failure upon its release, Reed resurrects the album and its tale of two star-crossed lovers in West Berlin.
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is the final hurrah of David Bowie’s mystical persona, Ziggy Stardust. The live concert film takes place at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, where Ziggy And The Spiders From Mars perform the last show of their 1973 tour promoting Bowie’s latest album, Aladdin Sane. Where many thought Bowie’s ambiguous announcement at the end of the show was him announcing his retirement from music, little did they know it was just one era of space and existentialism coming to a close, with many more on the horizon.
Various Artists – Woodstock
The 1970 film Woodstock captures the three days that would go on to shape the world of live music forever. With an unbeatable lineup consisting of Richie Havens, the Who, Janis Joplin, Sly And The Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix, among others, Woodstock documents a pivotal moment in music history that also defined 1960s counterculture. Watching Woodstock is just as important as viewing any other major historical event of the 20th century.
Sade – Sade: Bring Me Home
Sade: Bring Me Home is the English band’s fifth video album, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling than its precedents. The 2011 live concert film consists of the band’s one-night stop in Ontario during their Sade Live Concert tour. With breathtaking visuals and theatrics, the show is led by Sade Adu, with her euphonious and ardent voice that’s been in a category of its own for over three decades.
Prince – Prince: Sign O’ The Times
Rarely do you find a musician who can write, direct and star in their own concert film. Who's capable of such a trifecta but Prince? In Sign O’ The Times, Prince and his band exude their electric energy that was still going strong well into the film’s release in late 1987. While the majority of the film was reportedly shot at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios, the live film still ranks as one of Prince’s most classic and iconic performances, regardless of location.
Björk – Björk: Biophilia Live
Exploring humanity and nature, Björk’s 2014 concert film Björk: Biophilia Live is a dazzling visual display that also includes a vast array of untraditional musical instruments. The live film was shot at Alexandra Palace in London along Björk’s Biophilia tour in 2013. Homing in on the emphasis of humans’ connection to nature, the show’s backdrop includes images of sand dunes, forests and even microscopic tissue cells in true Björk fashion.
Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace, the 2018 documentary following Aretha Franklin’s recording of her 1972 gospel album of the same name, is a religious experience in itself. Originally set for release in 1972, the footage remained in a Warner Bros. vault for more than 30 years. Resurfaced at last, the film follows Franklin as she records her latest album live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in southern Los Angeles. Aside from Franklin, Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones make an appearance in the audience as they revel in Franklin’s soul-chilling vocals.
Jay-Z – Fade To Black
In one of his last dances before retiring from the industry, Jay-Z’s Fade To Black is another irreplaceable concert film that captures a legendary act in the height of their success. Not only does the film include Jay-Z’s performance at Madison Square Garden — just across the river from his birthplace of Brooklyn, New York — but also features footage of the making of The Black Album.
Various Artists – Wattstax
Originally a benefit concert organized by Stax Records to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots, Wattstax created a nexus of R&B, blues, jazz, soul, funk and gospel for one night only. The 1973 live concert film came out a year after the festival. It would go on to be nominated for a Golden Globe in 1974 for Best Documentary. The legendary acts included in the festival’s lineup stemmed from Stax’s signed artists at the time, including Richard Pryor, the Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes.