Let’s face it, it’s an impossible task for any concert film made in the 21st century to live up to the golden standard set by The Last Waltz and Stop Making Sense decades ago. If you read any best-of list for concert films, one of those two is bound to be in the top spot. They’re both so ingrained as all-time classics that they’ll be topping lists 50 years from now.
However, recent years have provided music lovers plenty of reasons to keep watching, and with the premiere of LCD Soundsystem’s highly anticipated Shut Up and Play the Hits this week, it would appear that the concert film format is back in the spotlight. In light of its release, Consequence of Sound explored some of the more modern classics and put together a list of their favorite concert films post-2000.
10. My Morning Jacket – Okonokos
Recorded during My Morning Jacket‘s two-night stand at San Francisco’s Fillmore on their 2005 Z tour, Okonokos captures one of this generation’s greatest live bands at the height of their power. The film puts you in the shoes of a wanderer from a different time who happens to stumble upon this concert while passing through the woods. It’s a cute concept that gives the woody stage decoration some context and ties everything together nicely. The real highlight, of course, is Yim Yames and the gang tearing through cuts ranging from At Dawn to their then-current Z. From the highest highs of “One Big Holiday” to the lowest lows of “Dondante”, this is a must-own for any My Morning Jacket fan.
9. Gorillaz – Demon Days: Live at the Manchester Opera House
Part music concert, part Broadway performance, Demon Days: Live… is unlike any other concert films out there. Then, of course, what else but something unusual could be expected from Gorillaz? Being an animated band makes live shows difficult; their first attempt was the Demon Detour, a “virtual tour” where they played live on radio stations in different cities. By the end of 2005, they had figured out a way to make it work, and it involved puppets, an extensive live band, and perfectly executed visuals.
Damon Albarn & Co. are mostly relegated to silhouettes in front of the large video screens, a perfect way to keep the illusion up while not letting the fans down by not being seen at all. All guest performers– and there are many, from Shaun Rider to Dennis Hopper– take center stage, with the biggest highlight being the enormous chorus that comes out for “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” and “Demon Days”. When Albarn finally steps out of the shadows for the encore performance of “Hong Kong”, it’s just the cherry on top of an already great performance.
8. Nine Inch Nails – Beside You In Time
One of two Nine Inch Nails concert films released in the decade, Beside You In Time gets the edge over And All That Could Have Been for being bigger and bolder. Recorded during 2005’s “With Teeth” tour, Trent Reznor was freshly sober and hauling around one of the best light shows on tour at the time. While And All That Could Have Been was gritty and unpolished, Beside You In Time was clean, shot in HD. With Reznor being a big proponent of cutting edge technology, it was one of the first major concert films to come out on Blu-ray, before the format had even won the battle over HD DVD, standing as a testament to the wonders of the format.
The performance is classic NIN, intense from start to finish, and the visuals are a sight to behold. Until Reznor decides to take NIN back on the road (which could be a while, if ever), this film will have to suffice.
7. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
As a comedian, Dave Chappelle has always had a good relationship with musicians. On his hugely popular Chappelle’s Show, he routinely had some of the biggest names in hip-hop as guests. On September 18, 2004, Chappelle brought a whole community together. In the spirit of 1973’s Wattstax, Chappelle invited some of his musical buddies to perform a surprise block party in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
Chappelle enlisted the help of director Michel Gondry and threw a party headlined by the Fugees in their first performance in seven years. The rest of his own personal dream concert featured luminaries like Kanye West, the Roots, Black Star, Big Daddy Kane, Erykah Badu, Common, and more. The film also gives the best of both worlds, the great musical performances and Dave Chappelle’s stand-up and skits together in one package. Throw in some interviews and a bit of day-in-the-life of Dave Chappelle, and you’ve got a unique concert film experience.
6. Beastie Boys – Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!
Most likely the least expensive film on this list, the Beastie Boys had an ingenious idea for their 2004 concert at Madison Square Garden: Give 50 random audience members Hi8 video cameras and have them shoot whatever they wanted during the show, as long as they were continually rolling. The result was hours and hours of footage – bathroom and food breaks, crowd shots, and the show itself. The band edited the footage, along with some footage of their own, into a 90 minute film unlike any other.
The end result comes across as the ultimate YouTube mash-up, but it was all filmed a year before YouTube even existed. The energy of the Beastie Boys jumps off the screen no matter where the footage comes from — floor, balcony, anywhere. As lo-fi as they made it, they even returned all 50 cameras back to where they bought them after the footage was compiled, keeping the costs ultimately low. So, while this film may not be the most technically impressive on this list, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And for the Beastie Boys, that’s all that matters.
5. Sigur Rós – Heima
Sigur Rós and their home country of Iceland mesh together so well that it’s hard to imagine them hailing from any other place. Like Sigur Rós, Iceland is mysterious, gorgeous, and grandiose. The 2007 documentary Heima serves to show just how deep that comparison goes. After a lengthy would tour that took them to all corners of the globe in support of 2005’s Takk…, Jonsi & co. finally made their way back home in the summer of 2006. Instead of resting, they finished the trek by putting on free shows across their home country, from ÃsafjÃ¶rÃ°ur to ReykjavÃk.
The shows weren’t average Sigur Rós shows, but rather were set in non-traditional places, and each one acted less as a show and more as a community-uniting event. From a marching band parading through town leading to a show at the foot of a mountain to an acoustic show in a coffee shop, each experience in each town was unique. The scenery is breathtaking and the footage is stunning, the perfect compliment to the live Sigur Rós experience. The film ends the way all of their shows did on that world tour, with a chilling performance of “PopplagiÃ°”, this time the climax of the final and largest show of their Icelandic tour. These performances, along with lovely interviews and a few spurts of avant-garde filmmaking, come together to make one of the most fascinating concert films ever made.
4. Jay-Z – Fade to Black
Remember when Jay-Z retired? Yeah, us neither. Even though it was short lived, he did intend on retiring on top: After releasing the Black Album, he was to play one final star-studded show on his home turf in Madison Square Garden. His would-be final concert lived up to the hype: the Roots served as his backing band, while the guest stars showed up in droves. Missy Elliot, Beyoncé, Twista, Ghostface Killah, Mary J. Blige, and R. Kelly are just some of the big names that found their way onto the Garden stage. Fade to Black hits the major points in the show, along with some off-stage footage that offers an interesting look at the man behind the music. If this was to be his final release, it would have been a sufficient swansong. Lucky for us, his retirement didn’t last long.
3. The Rolling Stones – Shine a Light
If you’re going to make a concert film, you might as well get one of the best directors in the history of cinema to take the helm. That’s precisely what the Rolling Stones did when they took a break from their A Bigger Bang stadium tour and brought Martin Scorcese along to perform a pair of intimate shows at The Beacon Theatre in New York City.
Mixing archival footage with backstage and onstage footage, Scorsese blends it all together to form an engrossing picture that even non-fans can enjoy. The Stones themselves playing in an intimate theatre is thrilling enough on its own, but throw in some special guests like Jack White and Buddy Guy, and you’ve got a Stones show like none other. With a good mix of the hits and deep cuts they had previously never played live, the setlist was everything you could want from a Stones show, and it was all captured masterfully by Scorsese and his team of 22 cinematographers.
2. Neil Young – Heart of Gold
Jonathan Demme has to live with the gift and the curse that is Stop Making Sense for the rest of his life. The gift is that it’s perhaps the greatest concert film ever made; the curse is that every one of his other music-related projects will be compared to that masterpiece.
Neil Young: Heart of Gold isn’t Stop Making Sense, but it doesn’t need to be. Instead, it’s much more simple, subtle, and warm. Demme captures Neil Young at his most fragile in performances debuting the songs from his 2005 album Prairie Wind, shot over two shows at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. The Prairie Wind recording sessions were heavily influenced by both the death of Young’s father and his own surgery for a brain aneurysm, which led to a stripped down return to the acoustic feel of Harvest and Harvest Moon.
That warm feel comes through on the screen, as the Ryman is transformed into Young’s imaginative prairie home. You can almost feel the titular wind blowing through the prairie. Young keeps the Nashville feel going by supplementing the performance with songs taken throughout his career that were recorded in Music City, from “Heart of Gold” to “Four Strong Winds”. Demme went on to create a trilogy of Neil Young concert films– with 2009’s Trunk Show and 2011’s Journeys rounding it out– but Heart of Gold stands out as his finest work of the new Millennium.
1. The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights
Under Great White Northern Lights is one of the most emotionally touching concert films of any era. While the crew was filming The White Stripes during their Canadian summer tour of 2007, they never could have known that they would capture the band near the end of their rope. The fact that the film didn’t come out until years later– after Meg White reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown and the band went on what ended up being a permanent hiatus– only adds to its poignancy.
It’s not all emotionally charged footage, though. The live portions show the Stripes at the height of their performative prowess, and the various mini-shows in random places around Canada show their lighter side. The film remains the Jack & Meg White show throughout, as some of the most compelling footage simply comes from the duo backstage– especially the closing moments of the film. As Jack plays a version of “White Moon” on piano, he leaves Meg in tears. It’s the perfect encapsulation of one of our generation’s greatest bands near the end of their life together, simultaneously thrilling and heartbreaking. Regardless of whether or not the White Stripes ever play together again, Under Great White Northern Lights will live on as one of the best concert films of our– or any other– generation. If it truly is the end of the Stripes, we’re all lucky that we were left with this.