List Time: Must-see concert films

This is why I can't eat spaghetti.

It’s the day after the All-Star Game, the deadest day in the world of sports. I’m pretty sure ESPN is looping reruns of lawn dart championships from the ’80s. I mean, those pretty anchors have to have some time off, right?

What this means for the media/blogosphere is a day completely full of fluff.’s lead story is about preparing for the second half of fantasy baseball and the biggest “news” is that Alex Gonzalez has been traded to the Braves. These are lean times.

And the saying is, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I just finished watching the “Rust Never Sleeps” film version and was inspired to share my favorite concert films of all time. This list is by no means comprehensive as the breadth of my knowledge is admittedly lacking, and most of these are regarded as classics anyway…BUT if they’re new to at least one person, I’d chalk this one up in the win column.

On to business…

8. Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles

I’ve seen a few Beatles films, but this one will forever be my favorite just to its sheer ridiculousness. I mean, who hasn’t thought about dropping acid and taking a bus on a tour of the English countryside? Paul took that idea and ran with it and we’re presented with a disjointed, moving non-sequitur of  a film that features eggmen, sorcerers in the sky, a burlesque show and–my personal favorite–a creepy John Lennon shoveling loads of spaghetti onto Ringo’s aunt’s plate while she laughs/cries in distress. So. Much. Spaghetti. I also tried showing this to a girl I was into in high school with hopes that she would think I was “deep” and “cool.” She left halfway through.

Of course, the music in the movie and accompanying album are what make it a worthwhile film. My personal favorite: “Blue Jay Way”

7. Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight

One of the first concert films I ever purchased, and you really get to see Hendrix at his best. Filmed in 1970 at the Isle of Wight in front of, oh, 600,000 people, you get to see Hendrix bust out a great mix of tunes spanning from the Experience to his Band of Gypsys days. It also features my favorite Hendrix lineup, with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass. If that’s not enough to convince you to watch it, then just have a gander at Jimi’s outfit. I don’t think anyone else could have pulled it off.

The absolute highlight of the show is “Machine Gun.” The dude is simply the master.

6. Heart of Gold by Neil Young

Directed by Jonathan Demme, who knows how to do concert films, “Heart of Gold” was released in 2006 and literally casts a sepia tone over your room when you watch it. It’s Young at his most gentle and reflective. The performance, in Nashville, is split in two, the first half being cuts from the then-new “Prairie Wind” and the encore consisting of old favorites, with interviews with friends to boot. If you read my post following the NY concert here in Dallas last month, you know that he’s still got it. And while that concert showed that Neil can still rock, this one shows he can show his emotion without busting out Old Black, with only one song featuring electric guitar.

Here’s “Prairie Wind” the title track, which holds up well against any of his classics. What can I say? I love it when Neil sings about farming. I hope I’m like him when I’m grandpa. I’m definitely getting a hat like that.

5. Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads

This is the only one on here that I don’t own, but my ex-roommate John Meller had it and it really put the Heads, a band I never really got, into perspective. Also directed by Demme, it does as good of a job of capturing the essence of the band on film as possible, which may actually be an impossible feat. It’s one of the few concert films to have a concept that actually works. Plus, it’s worth watching just to see David Byrne be. The guy is one of the most interesting people to ever live. And, yes, he wears a really big suit.

Although “Life During Wartime” is my favorite song, I’ll go with “Girlfriend is Better” just so those who haven’t seen the big suit can experience it in all its glory. Also, am I the only one that finds Tina Weymouth oddly sexy?

4. The Who Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970

Boy, the Isle of Wight sure was ripe for future concert film material, wasn’t it? Like the Hendrix one, this was a seminal film to my music taste development. It has a comparable set list to the Who’s more famous “Live at Leeds” album and features “Tommy” in its entirety. And we all know that I love a costume gimmick, and the Who delivers. Pete Townshend wearing a white, high-water jumpsuit, Roger Daltry rocking out bare-chested with only a jacket with the most fringe ever manufactured covering his pecs and John Entwistle wearing his famous skeleton suit. Ever wonder wear the Flaming Lips got the idea? It’s a straight-ahead film, all concert, no frills, but they don’t need any extra entertainment value when they have Keith Moon. Gotta love that quirky British on-stage banter.

I’m tempted to go with the awesome verison of “My Generation” but this one always sticks out in my head: “Water.” Don’t worry, it’s OK to duck when Pete starts wind-milling. The quality is that good.

3. Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young and Crazy Horse

True, I just watched this today. But, it immediately captured my heart and spurred my desire to even make this list. I have a feeling that this is one of those things that big NY fans like more than regular folks. It’s weird. Not Magical-Mystery-Tour-spaghetti-creepy weird, but Neil Young weird. It’s from his 1978 tour that featured oversized amps, microphones and harmonicas (all just props) and the “Road-Eyes,” creepy little Ewok-looking roadies with flashlights for eyes who scurried about. It has a slight semblance of a plot: Neil is awoken by the Ewoks and starts playing his acoustic set. After some weird Woodstock audio interlude the Horse comes out and some serious rocking ensues, along with appearances by some other random characters. But, the music here is what makes it a classic (the album wasn’t named the album of the year by Rolling Stone for nothing). What’s really unique is that Young looks so, well, young. He has a shorter hair cut and is dressed in white pants, a short white t-shirt and suspenders. It all goes with the overarching theme that despite the ongoing punk movement, NY could hang. Or maybe it was just an allegory for the struggles of Ewoks for independence. Either way, I’m in.

This is the only vid I could find on YouTube, but I feel it captures the weirdness perfectly: “Like a Hurricane”

2. Led Zeppelin DVD

First off, that’s the title. It’s not “How the West Was Won.” That was a different album. These things irk me. But seriously, this is the first concert film I ever owned. Yes, I know it’s not really a “film,” just a compilation of Zeppelin performances from throughout their career, but that’s what I love about it. It’s al good, but I can watch the 1970 performance from Royal Albert Hall on a loop for eternity. It was before they had completely blown up, before Jimmy’s dragon suits, before Robert Plant was shirtless at all times with his dong completely visible (that’s on disc 2, ladies), and when they were at the top of their game. The “Dazed and Confused” performance changed my life, so much that I even wrote a paper about it for my freshman rhetoric class.

Witness Zep in all their 1970 glory. Forever my favorite opening song: “We’re Gonna Groove.” Still gives me goosebumps.

1. The Last Waltz by The Band

Quite simply the best that’s ever been done. It was my first real introduction to the Band and what better way? Have a favorite rock and roll star, they’re here. A truly brilliant job by Scorsese of capturing a band during its magnificent swan song. And I’m not even going to mention Neil Young’s cocaine incident.

Love how it opens with the encore, a great version of “Don’t Do It” that, fittingly, doesn’t feature any guests:

So yeah, I’m a classic rock guy at heart. What are your favorites?


Filed under Music

2 responses to “List Time: Must-see concert films

  1. the first day i had my car sophomore year of high school i drove to virgin records and bought jimi hendrix live at the isle of wight. i don’t think i listened to anything else until march. still one of my favorite albums… haven’t ever seen the film though.

  2. John

    Glad stop making sense made the list, and thanks for the shout out. And in response to your question, no, you’re not.


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