With Bieber fever gripping the nation’s (and probably the world’s) multiplexes, as Never Say Never leads hordes of adoring fans to don 3D specs and bask in his glory, I thought I’d run through some of my favourite concert films. So here we go:
The Cramps: Live At Napa State Mental Hospital
Forget 3D. By staging a private show for the residents of a Californian mental institution, psychobilly punk band The Cramps came up with the ultimate concert film gimmick. The set is incredibly short, clocking in at around 30 minutes, is shot in grainy black and white, and its audio quality isn’t great, but Live At Napa State Mental Hospital remains a thoroughly engaging performance by the band’s strongest line-up. It’s not the type of film that people who aren’t familiar with the band will appreciate, but for those who are, it’s a must see.
Elvis: 68 Comeback Special
For a performer of such notable quality as Elvis, the fact that this 1968 comeback special stands as one of his finest performances should serve as a testament to how great it is. Shot at a time when Elvis had been largely absent from live performing due to an extended spell in Hollywood, popular attention had shifted away from The King and onto bands like The Beatles.
Here, Presley’s a long way away from the overweight image some would associate with him given the state of his health at the time of his death. In fact, he never looked in better shape as he did here which enabled him to give such an extended and energetic performance. Ostentatious backdrops aside, this is fantastic stuff, and Elvis is on fine form as he charms the audience inbetween hit after hit.
Neil Young: Heart Of Gold
Jonathan Demme is no stranger to concert films (another will feature later), and this portrait of Neil Young and his concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in support of his Prairie Wind album is quite incredible. In a set that sees Young play through the album as well as covering hits from his 40 plus years of song writing, this is a collection that would please hardened fans as well as newcomers. He calls upon a number of musical guests throughout the set, which doesn’t feature a weak moment, and is wonderfully captured by Demme.
Beside You In Time
Filmed during Nine Inch Nails’ winter tour of 2006 in support of the album With Teeth, Beside You In Time captures the band on fine form as they play an hour and a half long set that includes both album tracks and hits. There’s an intensity to the performance that is almost unrivalled by any of their peers. Watching Trent Reznor in action here leaves me wondering how he manages to keep up that level of energy in his performance across a whole tour, and the same goes for the rest of the band.
Many of the songs performed here surpass the quality of the original album recordings – clearly age is not something that hampers Reznor and co. If anything, they seem to be getting better and more creative, as witnessed in his stunning score for The Social Network last year.
The Cure: Trilogy – Live In Berlin
I was fortunate enough to see The Cure a few years ago and they were great, but it was nothing like this concert film from 2002. The prospect of the band performing three of their greatest and darkest albums in their entirety back to back had to have been a hugely attractive prospect to fans. It’s an epic set that includes 30-plus tracks that lasts a little over three hours, and has little in the way of lightness, but for dark and moody brilliance, Trilogy is almost unrivalled. It’s an ambitious project that’s brilliantly captured.
Shine A Light
Granted, much of this plays out like a documentary, but it features one of the finest Rolling Stones sets committed to film, helped no end by the loving direction of Martin Scorsese whose master’s touch elevates the material.
The set list is nothing short of outstanding, as the band work through a greatest hits list, while introducing a number of guests throughout the course of the gig. The likes of Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera all appear, but the main focus throughout is very much the band themselves who, despite their advancing years, remain as tight as ever.
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
I covered this briefly when I devoted a previous column to David Bowie, but Ziggy Stardust stands as one of the finest concert films ever made. Made at a point where Bowie challenged preconceived notions of his image, the artist created an alter-ego and material that would stand as a highlight of his early career.
Reports from those fortunate enough to see the performance live indicate that this was one of the best gigs of its time, and the footage captured here certainly hints at that. There’s behind the scenes documentary footage, but the concert aspect is very much the focus, and the film’s greatest strength.
Sign O’ The Times
Although Dirty Mind is my favourite Prince album, Sign O’ The Times gives it a run for its money, and this concert film is one of the finest ever made.
Filmed in 1987, when few could rival Prince’s output, the level of creativity heard on the tracks that feature here extends to the performance of the great man, as well as his backing band. As a result, Sing O’ The Times is thoroughly compelling from start to finish.
There’s an attempt at a narrative, with the set up of a love triangle between Prince and two of his dancers but, for me at least, that becomes an unwelcome distraction from the core of the concert.
The song selection and performances are absolutely faultless. One of the finest live performers of all time, Prince is on electric form here.
Awesome; I F***in’ Shot That!
The Beastie Boys are a group that, for years, have displayed high levels of creativity, so when they set out to record a concert film, they didn’t rope in a well-known director (the band has worked with a number of big names over the years, most obviously Spike Jonze). Instead, they decided to let the fans film the footage, providing 50 cameras to assorted members of the crowd, and later spending a considerable amount of time (a year in total) working through the footage and editing it into this fantastic film.
As if this approach wasn’t proof enough of the group’s creativity, they also put on one hell of a show, working through a near perfect set list comprising most of their hits.
Stop Making Sense
Showing the band Talking Heads at the height of their powers, Stop Making Sense is, for me, the ultimate concert film. Lovingly filmed by Jonathan Demme with the help of cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth over a period of three nights, it’s clear that a lot of thought went in to the look and feel of the performance.
Members of the band are gradually revealed as the set progresses, from David Byrne appearing on stage with an acoustic guitar and boom box for Psycho Killer, to the full band running through hits like Burning Down The House. This gives the set a sense of forward momentum as it builds to a euphoric conclusion. Although this was filmed over a number of nights, the resulting set is incredibly cohesive, and the set list is flawless. Stop Making Sense is an absolute must see.
Thanks to Stuart Barr, and Den of Geek writers Phil Beresford and Michael Leader for helping me in narrowing down my list.
Is your favourite concert film missing from the list? Disagree with any of the inclusions? Share your opinions in the comments section below.
Follow Den Of Geek on Twitter right here.