I have discussed my love of music. I was also a child of the 80’s, the MTV generation if you like, and so I watched plenty of music videos, short movies produced at great expense to highlight the performer’s talents, or their cars, or their hair, or whatever. Music videos seem to be a thing of the past, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I do love watching artists actually perform their work. Now, movies are always going to have post production and editing. As a viewer it’s hard to say that I’m seeing a perfectly raw performance, but there are some movies out there of musical performances that are important to me, that I love to watch and I think have value to watch. I thought I’d list them here.
1- The Last Waltz. This is Martin Scorsese’s depiction of The Band’s last concert, on Thanksgiving Day 1976. Besides the all star line-up recorded by a true film maker, you get a crackerjack performance by the recently deceased and totally underappreciated Levon Helm. My favorite part of this show is when Eric Clapton’s guitar strap comes loose just as he’s about to rip into the solo on his signature song “Further on Up the Road.” Clapton tells Scorsese to cut (you can hear it in the audio) but the director fortunately ignores him. Robbie Robertson steps in without missing a beat and plays a blistering solo. To me it shows the true ability of performers to go on with the show no matter what happens.
2- Led Zeppelin. This also predates MTV. It is Jimmy Page’s loving restoration of the Led Zeppelin footage recorded on their rise and all the way through to Knebworth 1979, just before the death of John Bonham. Seeing the biggest band in the world play at the height of their powers is awesome. The guitar solo in Stairway to Heaven, performed acoustically at Earl’s Court, is one of my all time favorites, and Jimmy Page’s dragon kimono contrasts quite a bit with the pencil thin white slacks and blue shirt he sweats through at Knebworth while they blast out Kashmir and In the Evening in front of 200,000 people.
3- Concert for George. This 2002 concert, one year after the death of George Harrison, is more of a tear jerker, but filled with great performances as well. This was the first time Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney played together after the breakup of the Beatles. There’s a bit with Monty Python, and if Photograph doesn’t make you choke up you’re already dead. This one is important to me because it really introduced me to the work of George Harrison, the third Beatle. It allows his personality to shine through, something that John and Paul kind of kept from happening.
Queen at Live Aid. Best. Live. Performance. Ever. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor. There is no flim flammery here. Just Freddie Mercury singing like no one else will ever sing in front of the entire world and knocking it out of the park.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Live at the Olympic. Watch Tom rock out on Shake, Rattle, and Roll and then take the guitar solo on Mary Jane’s Last Dance. Awesome.
Pearl Jam Live at the Garden. I love Mike McCready.
Pink Floyd, Live at Pompeii. Another movie about a band. The best part of this one is when they show David Gilmour tracking Us and Them by himself in the studio, playing those little licks that are so familiar to us now. It’s a moment of insight into the mind of a genius guitar player.
Little Feat, Skin It Back. There is not much footage of Lowell George in action, but in this movie, if you look close at his guitar slide, you can actually see the word “Craftsman” on it. That’s right. His slide is a socket, just like you always heard he used, and the proof is right there on film.
Alabama 3, Hear the Train A’Comin. Yeah, I think I’m the only one who likes this band, and to get this video you have to order it from England. Still worth it.
Well, there you go. My favorite movies of musicians doing what they do for their audiences, live and without a net. If you have some favorites I would love to hear about them so I can check them out. I don’t really go to concerts anymore, but I love watching them in my living room with a cold beer!