The top 20 concert films – ordered by rank!

20. A One Man Show (1982)

Unfortunately, the sole commercially available version of A One Man Show is a missed chance. It includes six live tracks and four impressive music videos featuring Grace Jones. However, the live performances are truly exceptional – with dramatic lighting, stunning staging, and Jones’ fierce and commanding presence – making it a must-see event. It’s about time that the complete concert is officially released.

The 1983 performance of Minor Threat at the 9:30 Club.

It’s shot on video cameras towards the end of Minor Threat’s career, but no other film captures US hardcore punk’s potency this well. Minor Threat don’t play like a band about to break up, and situating a camera behind the drums is an inspired idea, revealing the audience: a stage-diving, slam-dancing maelstrom of arms and legs.

In 2004, Jay-Z released “Fade to Black”.

There is a scarcity of hip-hop concert films, making Fade to Black a rare find. Despite its premise of a supposed retirement that never occurred, the movie still offers enjoyable footage from Madison Square Garden. The performances include appearances by artists such as Kanye West, Missy Elliott, Mary J Blige, and Beyoncé.

17. Mad Dogs & Englishmen (1971)

Mad Dogs & Englishmen is now a fantastic period piece, documenting a vast, overblown musical travelling circus touring the US on the morning after the 60s. There’s a bludgeoning intensity about the music, Joe Cocker remains a bizarre, compelling presence, but the scene-stealer is the charismatic, if faintly unsettling keyboard player, Leon Russell.

16. Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! (2006)

An intriguing effort to redefine the concert film: 50 attendees at a Beastie Boys’ show at Madison Square Garden were given camcorders and instructed to record the entire performance. When combined, the low-quality footage may cause discomfort, but few movies capture the feeling of truly being part of the live audience at a concert.

15. Don’t Think (2012)

Adam Smith’s astonishing film of a Chemical Brothers set at Japan’s Fuji Rock mixes colour-saturated visual bombardment with audience members wandering off for food midway through the performance. It genuinely feels like being at a festival in an altered state: moreover, it captures the lost-in-the-moment transcendence central to dance music.

Elvis Presley’s 1970 performance in “That’s The Way It Is.”

I am not trying to be overly critical, but the version of That’s The Way It Is from 2001 is the one you should watch. It has more live performances and less fans gushing, making it a more convincing portrayal of Elvis’ peak in his career. On stage, he is natural, emotionally charged, and exudes a strong sexual energy.

13. Sign O’ the Times (1987)


Fans of Prince may have a preference for the infrequently shown movie of his 1986 Parade tour, showcasing the Revolution and thankfully avoiding the scripted “dramatic” interludes seen in Sign O’ the Times. However, Sign O’ the Times itself is still amazing: visually stunning, with a selection of songs heavily featuring the album that shares its name and is considered a standout in Prince’s career.

12. Wattstax (1973)

The Wattstax festival gained the nickname “Black Woodstock,” but the resulting film is far more captivating than that of Woodstock. The performances are all exceptional, with Isaac Hayes as the standout and the Bar-Kays possibly stealing the show. The director’s portrayal of the festival’s context is gripping, as it takes place in a tense and underprivileged Black community.

11. Depeche Mode: 101 (1989)

Pennebaker’s documentary had an unintended impact on the creation of reality television. The film features a mix of Depeche Mode’s concert at the Pasadena Rosebowl and footage of contest-winning young fans. Beyond the concert, “101” provides insight into Depeche Mode’s rise to stardom and 1980s American culture.

10. The Song Remains the Same (1976)

The imagined scenes could be considered the ultimate example of 1970s rock extravagance, certain portions of the video may show the band pretending to play at Shepperton Studios, Robert Plant may have disregarded it as nonsense, however, it doesn’t matter: the standout moments of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 concert at Madison Square Garden are so powerful that they overshadow any criticisms.

9. Dance Craze (1981)

The creation of Dance Craze was reportedly filled with disagreements between director Joe Massot and the performers, but this is not evident in the final result: a non-stop barrage of energetic live shows – featuring the Specials, Madness, the Beat, and others – that flawlessly captures the boisterous excitement of the peak of the Two Tone movement.

8. The Last Waltz (1978)

Robbie Robertson in The Last Waltz.

Martin Scorsese approached filming the Band’s final concert as if it were a full-length movie, using storyboards and seven camera operators while carefully considering the lighting. However, what truly makes the film worth viewing are the exceptional performances from not only the Band, but also from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and a seemingly energetic and lively Van Morrison.

7. The TAMI Show (1964)

The story of The TAMI Show – of James Brown’s determination to upstage headliners Rolling Stones – is better known than the film itself, which spent decades out of circulation. Brown is incredible, but the rest of the lineup is great too, taking in Motown, the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore and garage punk (via the Barbarians): a perfect survey of mid-60s US pop.

The movie “Homecoming” was directed by Beyoncé in 2019.

The footage of the rehearsals may be overly flattering, but Beyoncé has every reason to be proud: she was the first Black woman to headline Coachella and delivered a truly stunning performance. The movie captures both of her shows, distinguished by different costume colors, and intensifies their excitement.

5. Monterey Pop (1968)

Jimi Hendrix’s guitar-immolating appearance is Monterey Pop’s most famous moment, but really, the viewer looking for highlights is spoilt for choice: Janis Joplin’s racked reading of Ball and Chain, the thuggish power of the Who – utterly at odds with the festival’s peace-and-love vibe – or Otis Redding’s majestic career-changing appearance.

4. Gimme Shelter (1970)

Fans watching the Rolling Stones at Altamont, December 1969.

Many excellent films of concerts leave you longing to have been in attendance, but Gimme Shelter leaves you grateful that you were not. The Rolling Stones’ live performances are exceptional, but that is not the focus of the film. Instead, its impact lies in its continuous return to the band’s reactions as they receive news and footage of the violence and killing at Altamont.

3. Stop Making Sense (1984)

Director Jonathan Demme called Stop Making Sense a “performance film” rather than a concert film, stripping away visual and lighting effects to concentrate on Talking Heads’ incredible, highly choreographed performance, catching them at their post-Speaking in Tongues musical peak, their augmented live band awesomely tight and funky.

2. Amazing Grace (2018)

According to the late Billy Preston, when Aretha fully immerses herself in a powerful song, she will leave you in awe. Indeed, while other concert films may have more flashy visuals, none can compare to the raw and passionate musical performance captured in this previously unreleased 1972 film of Aretha Franklin at her father’s Los Angeles church.

1. Summer of Soul (2021)

The 5th Dimension at the 1969 Harlem cultural festival.

Summer of Soul is not simply a concert film, but rather a remarkable piece of cultural exploration that uncovers previously forgotten footage from the 1969 Harlem cultural festival. It is surprising that this event was ever overlooked, as it captured the pinnacle of Black talent during the pop era and boasts stunning audio and visual quality. Each performance, from Nina Simone’s powerful and provocative performance to Sly and the Family Stone’s exhilarating set, as well as Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson’s soul-stirring gospel, is absolutely mesmerizing. It is no wonder that the film swept every award it was nominated for.


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