What did we miss?
The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound (Warhol, 1966)
In which Andy Warhol treats the Velvet Underground like he did the Empire State Building, testing his audience's patience with sustained footage of their noisy, seated improvisation in one of the first rock films (fittingly breaking genre rules that don't even exist yet). The racket is made more compelling by the impossibly iconic looks of all involved. And who's kid is that??? I'm retroactively scared to death for its future (and I am writing Mad Men fan fiction about it pretending it's Pete and Peggy's neglected orphan baby). To the legions of bands sitting in Bushwick, right now, honing your drone—take an hour to meet yr makers.
James Brown, live in Zaire, 1974 (from Soul Power)
Some of the most compelling footage in the constantly compelling 1996 Muhammed Ali documentary When We Were Kings came from the music festival organized in Zaire around Ali's 1974 title fight with a pre-cuddly George Foreman. Its film-makers made a more complete accounting of that fascinating cultural event in 2008 called Soul Power, preserving amazing performances from soul legends like Bill Withers, and super-theatrical headline set from James Brown, among many others (some camera work from Gimme Shelter's Albert Mayles is included). Above, James Brown dresses like an NBA dance team member, and maybe gets a little too in-depth in his stage banter for a crowd of non-English speakers.
Wire - "Blessed State" (from WIRE on the Box:1979)
Stretching the definition of concert "film" ever-so-slightly is WIRE on the Box:1979, a brilliant set by the best British post-punk band there ever was, as broadcast on West German TV. Re-released as as standalone DVD in 2004, the concert gains power from its studio audience artificiality to the point that the awkward, polite group of German teens becomes almost indispensable. Rock music had gotten really cold and weird all of a sudden, but it was still being jammed into the same old, 60s hit-parade formats on TV (though filtered through weirder European tastes here).
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - "Bad Reputation" (from Urgh! A Music War)
Most concert films—excepting those documenting festivals—focus on a single artist, which is only right and natural. But the 1982 cult film Urgh! A Music War is epic and necessary for capturing the stunning diversity of the early 80s punk and new waves scene. It featured an overstuffed artist list that includes: Magazine, The Go-Go's, The Fleshtones, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, XTC, Devo, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Dead Kennedys, Gary Numan, Klaus Nomi, Wall of Voodoo, Pere Ubu, Steel Pulse, Surf Punks, 999, UB40, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Police. Where else would you find the tough as shit Joan Jett clip above in such close contact to the high-art foppery of the Klaus Nomi clip below?
Klaus Nomi - "Total Eclipse" (from Urgh! A Music War)
Sheila E. drum solo from Sign O the Times (1987)
While Prince's most famous cinematic moments will forever be ranked 1: Purple Rain, 2: "Bat-Dance", 3: The dead guy in a field in Fargo (not really, but one of the funniest Coen Brothers jokes ever), 1987's Sign O' the Times is the only one to catch him in apex live performance. It captures the ambitious double album its named for as a whole, but is probably most most famous for the extended drum solo by Seila E. embedded above. It is foxy, endless.
Siskel & Ebert on Sign O' the Times
Siskel and Ebert were fans at the time, with the late Mr. Siskel openly begging for Chicago tickets to Prince's next show.
Portishead - "Over" (from PNYC)
Despite (or maybe because of) some very dated 1997 video effects, Portishead's PNYC might just be the best single-concert film of the 1990s, capturing the band's glorious full-orchestra show at The Roseland, which was also released as a live album. Even as the extra rows of musicians recreate the band's beloved spy movie samples in lush detail around her, it's Beth Gibbons emotionally devastated delivery that stands out, as always. How far away she seems from the audience, how far away from even the players two feet from her on the stage.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Sealings" (from Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow)
The Lance Bangs-directed Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow was released by Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2004 at a really weird time for Internet consumption of music video. Blogging about it, just pre-You Tube, I actually remember writing some comically dated sentence like: "Since there's no easy way to embed snippets of music video, the band's new material has been slightly ignored..." Ha ha ha. But the film did catch YYYs at the height of their power as a rock band, ripping through rad, huge-sounding post Fever to Tell songs that were weirdly absent from their so-so sophomore record. "Sealings," above, only ever ended up on the dumb-as-shit Spider-Man 3 soundtrack! It almost invents Sleigh Bells, except with, you know, a super competent live drummer, less cheesy riffs, and a way more compelling front-woman. (But not as loud. Point Sleigh Bells?)
The Knife - "Heartbeats" (from Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience)
Though theatrically releases for concert films do seem to be making a bit of a comeback, DVD has been the more economic way to get this stuff out there in the recent past. Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience, which was tied to the live show for The Knife's perfect 2006 album, is one of the more necessary examples. The band never performs live anymore, but when they did it was overwhelming and mind-blowing and unreal. See them here, creeping their biggest hit the fuck up, dressed as space elf-monks plucked from a forthcoming Avatar sequel.