Singing the concert cancellation blues? Get your live music fix with these 23 films

Jon Bream, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Entertainment News

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.


"Woodstock" (1970). 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). 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.

"Wattstax" (1973). 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.


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