No concerts? No problem. Instead, try the next best thing to being at a show — watching a concert movie in the convenience of your own home. No hassling with parking, no overpriced beer, no whining about inflated ticket prices hoping for a good show.
These flicks guarantee a great performance.
We’re not talking documentaries filled with talking heads. We’re recommending movies (in chronological order) focusing on live music, whether featuring one act or an all-star lineup. (These concert movies can be accessed through various sources including for purchase on DVD/blu-ray, and on YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services.)
“The T.A.M.I. Show” (1964)
Save for the Beatles, this revue in Santa Monica, Calif., captured the hot pop flavors of the moment, with the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, the Supremes, Lesley Gore and arguably the most electrifying performance ever on film by James Brown. The Rolling Stones regretted that they had to follow the Godfather of Soul.
Elvis Presley, “Singer Presents … Elvis” (1968)
This historic TV special marked the King’s return to the stage after a seven-year sojourn into movies. Dressed in black leather, Elvis made a magical comeback, restoring relevance to his then-fading musical reputation.
“Monterrey Pop” (1968)
Documented by filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker in 1967, the first big rock festival featured, among others, Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas & the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and unforgettable knockout performances by Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix.
Terrific editing by director Michael Wadleigh and a young assistant named Martin Scorsese helped elevate the legend of this three-day 1969 hippie festival. It wasn’t just the cavalcade of stars — from the Who to Hendrix — but it was the split screen editing of Sly & the Family Stone and others that took us higher.
Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” (1970) and “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones” (1974)
Their Minneapolis show in May is postponed, but there are two stellar Stones movies to fill the void. “Gimme Shelter” captured the gritty satisfaction of the 1969 tour and the harrowing chaos and tragedy that was the Altamont Free Concert, where a spectator was stabbed to death by a Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang member working as a security guard. Less controversial, “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones” (1974) found the world’s greatest band at a peak, on their 1972 tour promoting the landmark “Exile on Main St.” It’s hard to argue with the movie’s killer set list.
Known as the Black Woodstock, this one-day fest in 1972 commemorated the seventh anniversary of the riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles. A parade of R&B stars — many associated with Stax Records, including Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Carla Thomas and Albert King — thrilled the crowd. Plus, there were appearances by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the brilliant Richard Pryor, and others talking about civil rights issues.
The Band, “The Last Waltz” (1978)
Considered one of rock’s great documentaries, this film of the Band’s 1976 farewell concert was packed with explosive performances by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and, most importantly, the Band, which backed every guest singer.
David Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (1979)
Unbeknown to filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, the artful dodger decided to kill off his Ziggy persona at the end of this 1973 London concert, which portrayed the rock icon during one of his many inventive pinnacles.
Neil Young, “Rust Never Sleeps” (1979) and “Heart of Gold” (2006)
This music god has always come in two flavors — folk and rock. No tour encapsulated the raw, primal power of electric Neil than “Rust Never Sleeps” (1979), which included some of his tender side, too. Some might question Young’s choice of laid-back songs in “Heart of Gold” (2006), but director Jonathan Demme’s deftly framed film delightfully placed you in the front row of an intimate show.
Talking Heads, “Stop Making Sense” (1984)
I’ll join the choir in singing the praises of arguably the greatest concert movie of all time. Working with director Jonathan Demme, bandleader David Byrne had a brilliant vision of how to stage a concert that was conceptually arty yet joyously invigorating. Byrne donned his big suit for this really big show.
Madonna, “The Virgin Tour” (1985)
Oh, the innocence, the attitude, the ambition. It was Madonna on her first big tour, with what now must seem like a pauper’s budget. A quintessential slice of Madge history.
U2, “Rattle and Hum” (1987)
Shot mostly in black and white, this self-consciously artful film was gorgeously photographed in a style that was as evocatively moody as U2’s atmospheric rock. You feel like you’re in VIP seats for magnificent performances of “Bad” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The interviews showed that these serious-minded superstars have a sense of humor about themselves.
Prince, “Sign o’ the Times” (1987)
Touring behind arguably his greatest album, the Minnesota hero had a purposeful vision for this tour and delivered a performance that was funky and funny, lively and lascivious, steamy and stylish, dreamy and daring, and downright irresistible even if you weren’t familiar with all the music.
Garth Brooks, “This Is Garth Brooks” (1992)
Flashback to when he exploded into superstardom, when he pioneered arena-rock sensibilities into country music. He was a super-sincere philosophizer in conversation and a determined dynamo onstage.
“Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” (2005)
This film chronicled the cult-loved comedian putting together a street party in Brooklyn in 2004 featuring potent performances by Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the Fugees and the Roots as house band. Predictably a little wacky because, well, it was Dave Chappelle.
Nirvana, “MTV Unplugged in New York” (2007)
Recorded in 1993, just a few months before frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide, this posthumous live album and delayed DVD took on a new, haunting resonance. Although lacking the galvanizing grunge of Nirvana in concert, this intense acoustic performance showcased the underappreciated songwriting of this pivotal ’90s band.
Michael Jackson, “This Is It” (2009)
Comprising mainly rehearsal footage for an upcoming London residency, this movie depicted Jackson as a driven savant in control of every artistic decision in creating magic for the stage. This may be the most human we’ve ever seen Jackson, who died before the tour started.
Justin Bieber, “Never Say Never” (2011)
This smartly tugged at young girls’ hearts with 3-D concert footage, cuddly close-ups of the Biebs offstage (including priceless childhood videos) and vicarious situations in which female fans got free concert tickets, met the Biebs or just screamed. OMG!!!
Taylor Swift, “Journey to Fearless” (2011)
While she’s released movies of every headline tour (“Reputation Stadium Tour” is pretty spectacular), this one found her blossoming into country superstardom (you do remember that she was a country singer?), with “You Belong with Me” and “Should’ve Said No.”
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, “Cheek to Cheek Live” (2015)
This odd couple — 60 years apart in age — discovered life-affirming and musical harmony doing standards from his songbook, including “Anything Goes” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” Well, she danced and dressed up (like Cher for one tune), and he was dapper and charismatic, as always.
Aretha Franklin, “Amazing Grace” (2018)
At the height of her career as the Queen of Soul in 1972, she returned to her gospel roots, singing in a Baptist church in Los Angeles. Due to technological issues and Aretha’s lack of approval, this soul-stirring Sydney Pollack-directed film wasn’t widely released until 2019.
Beyoncé, “Homecoming” (2019)
She ruled the world at Coachella in 2018 with a spectacular performance that mixed arresting choreography, alluring visuals, terrific music, inspirational messages, nods to black culture and guest appearances by her loved ones, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy. No wonder they dubbed it Beychella.
Bruce Springsteen, “Western Stars” (2019)
This wasn’t classic Boss with the E Street Band converting an arena into rock ’n’ roll utopia, but rather artful Springsteen in a conceptual concert film featuring original Western ballads in his Jersey barn, backed by a string section that buoyed these mostly downbeat tunes.