For the time being, there are no concerts to attend. It’s impossible to recreate the feeling of being part of a community, the sense of uniting as a nation over a song, or even the traffic that comes with attending a performance in person.
For those of us who don’t want to leave the comfort of our own homes but yet want to relive the enchantment of actual concerts, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime allow us to watch great concert films for free.
Everything in this list can be streamed for free or at a minimal cost. The classic D.A. Pennebaker documentary “Monterey Pop,” which depicts the iconic scene of Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his Fender, may undoubtedly be purchased for a fee. If you’ve got the funds to burn like a Jimi Hendrix guitar, then go ahead and do it.
However, in these hard times, you won’t go over budget with these.
1. ‘Stop Making Sense'(1984)
Byrne alone on stage performs “Psycho Killer” to a beat we’re led to believe is coming from the boombox he’s carrying on stage, making it appear as though he’s playing the song in front of a live audience.
Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantzon, and Jerry Harrison follow with “Heaven,” “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel,” and “Found a Job,” respectively, on the next tracks. Jonathan Demme’s nearly 90-minute masterwork is a stunning introduction to both the band and Demme’s wonderfully directed picture.
When “Burning Down the House,” Parliament-heavy-grooving Funkadelic’s arthouse funk number, comes on, the stage is jammed with auxiliary performers, including Parliament-Funkadelic keyboard ace Bernie Worrell and Brothers Johnson guitar godAlex Weir.
For “Girlfriend is Better,” Byrne returns to his most iconic stage look—the “big suit”—after Weymouth and Frantz took the stage for Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.”
At its peak, Demme’s film shows one of America’s finest live groups, plainly overcome with awe at what they’ve accomplished. And at the heart of that energy isByrne, a dancing fool who will go down in rock ‘n’ roll history as one of the most endearingly eccentric performers ever.
2. ‘Wattstax’ (1973)
On the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots, Stax Records held this concert. “A heartfelt portrayal of the black experience” is how Richard Pryor describes Mel Stuart’s documentary on the day’s events.
A series of interviews about the African American experience at the period sets the tone for the film.
As Jesse Jackson says, before leading the crowd in a call and response of”I am somebody” with fists held high: “This is a beautiful day. Every day brings fresh opportunities. Today is Black History Month.”
The performance begins with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which Michael Jackson dubbed the “Black National Anthem,” performed by Kim Weston.
A groovy rendition of “Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers transforms the stadium into a chapel for the celebration of black pride.
Rufus Thomas lightens the mood with “Do the Funky Chicken,” Carla Thomas is charming in her own right, and the Bar-Kays round out the stellar cast before Isaac Hayes brings the film to a rousing finish with “Theme From Shaft” and “Soulsville,” a dark social critique.
3. “LoudQuietLoud: A Film About the Pixies” (2006)
That discomfort and tension that appears to have defined what life was like when Pixies reunited and launched possibly the most successful indie-rock reunion tour in history 11 years later is documented here in a behind-the-scenes documentary.
While David Lovering becomes addicted to Valium and Joey Santiago battles to maintain his cool as the house of cards begins to break apart, Kim Deal goes separately with her sister Kelley to protect her own sobriety.
Even if it’s not as disturbing as “Let It Be” by the Beatles or “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” by Wilco, it’s still a little unsettling.
While Lovering’s drug-induced antics behind the kit may have resulted in Black Francis storming offstage, it’s clear why this tour was so well-received when the band is onstage together and re-connecting with the songs that have made them famous.
Rock music in the 1990s wouldn’t have been what it is today had it not been for these Boston rockers, who revolutionized the genre with their often-duplicated “whisper-to-a-scream dynamic.” It wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic.
4. ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978)
On Thanksgiving Day, 1976, the Band performed a farewell concert for the ages in this Martin Scorsese film. The playing, which is often joyful and as crisp as ever, doesn’t reveal any of the underlying tensions that prompted them to leave all of this behind.
As a bonus to their own performance, they enlisted the likes of Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, and Neil Diamond to join them.
Even if you didn’t see Bob Dylan, this concert would be well worth your time. Dylan’s most inspired backup group, the Band, is led by Robbie Robertson, who shines on a stunning rendition of “”Baby Let Me Follow You Down” leads into “Forever Young.”
A gospel-tinged rendition of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” closes the show, and everyone on stage joins in. It’s a fitting finale to an otherwise flawless evening.
And Scorsese adds context to those live performances by interviewing backstage crew members in order to elevate the Band and this specific event to the mythic stature they’ve enjoyed for decades now.
5. ‘Live at the Paramount’ (2011)
On Halloween night of 1991, Nirvana rocked Seattle with their breakout album “Nevermind,” which they’d released just five weeks previously.
At that time, these guys were an unmistakable force in both their trajectory and the trajectory of rock n’ roll. They arrived right in time to save the day.
In 16 mm film, you may experience what life was like before it was recorded in the history books.
The show begins with a cover of the Vaselines song, “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” which is a bit of a letdown. But when Dave Grohl’s drums kick in on an electric “Aneurysm,” it feels more like the quiet before the storm.
When he sings, Kurt Cobain sounds like he’s tearing his vocal chords out with each searing cry, whether it’s on “Drain You,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” or “About a Girl.” He sounds broken and desperate, yet he’s devoted to finding some solace in the lyrics of the songs he sings.
Just like his guitar work, it is cathartic, harnessing feedback while driving his colleagues through a steady stream of savage fuzz-guitar riffs.
Musicians, be ready to hear the sound of rock and roll taking the world by storm again! And so it was.
6. ‘Amazing Grace’ (2018)
Technical difficulties prevented filmmakerSydney Pollack from releasing his film about Aretha Franklin’s 1972 gospel album New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, which was a live two-record set recorded at the church..
As a result, the film was set for release in 2011, synchronizing audio and video. At that point, the film was put on hold until after Franklin’s death in 2018, at which point Franklin’s family gave the film their blessings.
In her soulful prime, Franklin connects with the gospel music of her youth with the help of a choir and a small soul band while accompanying herself on piano at times in this remarkable document.
From the opening line of “Holy Holy” to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” to “Amazing Grace,” she’s definitely caught up in the spiritual transcendence of the moment.
The spirit of a gift as ageless as Franklin’s connection with a higher force can captivate even those who are not religious. What important is that you can tell she’s feeling it.
7. ‘The Song Remains the Same’ (1976)
Aren’t there several concert videos that begin with fantastical sequences like this, including one that features John Bonham on a tractor? There’s only one, thank goodness.
Nevertheless, the three nights of Led Zeppelin music at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1973 were well worth the wait. Later, at Shepperton Studios, more video was captured.
Before the event even begins, Bonham is pounding out the beginning beat of “Rock and Roll” onstage. This does not mean that the fantasy sequences are over. Definitely not.
It goes without saying that watching the concert footage is enough of a pleasure in and of itself. As a young band on tour with “Houses of the Holy,” Led Zeppelin rocked their way through “Black Dog,” Jimmy Page’s evocative solo, “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” and “Dazed & Confused.”
8. ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’ (2012)
The number of Thomas Pynchon volumes James Murphy has is irrelevant to this discussion. We are not. However, in documentaries of this type, the establishing shots are what they are.
“We want some of this time back,” Murphy says after eight minutes and a half of very little in the way of activity. He speaks for all of us when he says this.”
Everything goes back to normal once “Dance Yrself Clean” comes on.
Originally, this was going to be LCD Soundsystem’s farewell show at Madison Square Garden, a four-hour victory lap that saw them perform a slew of their best songs. Director Will Lovelace and cinematographer Dylan Southern have caught a stunning performance.
And the interviews, like the “Last Waltz,” contribute to the experience by providing real insights into Murphy’s personality.
9. ‘Homecoming: A Film By Beyonce’ (2019)
Beyonce shot and directed this video of her Coachella headline performance. First black woman to headline America’s greatest music event, and as a queen with an Egyptian Queen Nefertiti figure on her cape, she thoroughly nailed the effect.
Richard Pryor once described Wattstax as “a soulful portrayal of the black experience,” and this performance is no exception. But it’s also a two-hour homage to historically black colleges and universities, and a celebration of Beyonce as a cultural force in the United States.
With a swaggering royal entrance and a stage full of dancers and a marching band atop stadium bleachers, she’s in complete control of the situation.
The marching band’s horn section lifts a magnificent performance of “Crazy in Love” to new heights before she’s even sung her first line.
“Freedom,” “Sorry,” “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), and a Destiny’s Child reunion are just a few of the standout moments. As a bonus, she provides unique insights into her creative process through her behind-the-scenes narrative.
After witnessing this performance, if you still don’t understand what makes Beyonce an iconic entertainer, you may not be intended to be in Beyonce’s universe.