Top 5 Concert Films of All Time

Live music is a frenetic, fleeting thing. Concert films bottle up that energy for fans to enjoy indefinitely. If done right, watching a concert film can feel as exciting as being in the room with the artist.

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While a recording of a current artist’s show is helpful if you can’t make it out to see them, concert films only get better with age. A high-def recording of a show becomes all the more valuable when the artist in question is no longer touring, has moved on from their older material or has passed. Below we’ve picked five concert films that act as our gateway into the live music experience of yesterday. Check out our picks.

1. Sign O’ the Times (Prince)

Unlike most of Prince’s films, Sign O’ the Times shed any narrative plotline. Instead, it stuck to the basics: Prince playing through the album of the same name on stage alongside the Revolution. While Purple Rain showcases the wide breadths of Prince’s artistry, if you’re looking to relive a Prince show or experience it for the first time, Sign O’ the Times is the way to go.

2. Live at Pompeii (Pink Floyd)

Sometimes it’s the venue itself that makes a concert truly magical. That was certainly the case with Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii. Pink Floyd’s spacey, atmospheric sound found a true home amongst the ancient Roman ruins. With performances of “Echoes” and “A Saucerful of Secrets,” Live at Pompeii is required viewing for classic rock fans.

3. Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones)

“The Stones at Altamont” has become a shortcut for explaining a disaster at a concert. The severity of a situation is immediately understood when equated to that fateful night amid the Stones’ 1969 tour. Albert and David Maysles captured the concert in the film Gimme Shelter. When they first dreamt up the project, there was no way of knowing that the show would break out in violence, resulting in a handful of deaths. The film not only showcases the Stones in their pomp but acts as a historical documentation of a time when rock concerts were truly unpredictable.

4. Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads)

The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense curbed any conventions of concert films. David Byrne and company stick to a simple, nearly deconstructed, stage design, linger on single frames for minutes at a time and let the stagehands have a shining moment on stage. The Talking Heads are one of the most unique bands in history, and given that reputation, it stands to reason that their film should be equally distinctive.

5. “The Last Waltz” (The Band)

No list of great concert films would be complete without The Band’s The Last Waltz. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film depicts The Band’s farewell concert on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. With a sprawling list of special guests—Neil Young, Van Morrison, Emmy Lou Harris, and more—the concert could have easily acted as a best of the ’70s showcase. Moreover, the film has become the model of excellence in the live show genre.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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