Top Ten – Tour / Concert Films

On the road again...

U2’s recent concert film U2: 3D (read a review here)may just bring about the resurrection of the concert / tour movie.

A much maligned form – most notably in mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap” – the tour movie is one way the fans can get close to their favourite artists. Whether they like what they see up close, though, is entirely debatable.

With more tour films to come from such live giants as Muse, the time is right for to count down ten of the best from an under-rated genre.

1. Rolling Stones – Cocksucker Blues

Famously banned, this 1972 tour movie caught the Stones at the peak of their debauchery. Director Robert Frank simply gave the entourage portable cameras and allowed them to film the hedonism – drug use, promiscuity and downright filthiness prevailed. Famously, the film can only be shown if the director is in the threatre, a result of Mick ‘n’ Keith seeing their face in the mirror and deciding the reflection wasn’t quite up to their standard.

2. The Band – The Last Waltz

So farewell, then, to The Band. After revolutionising rock ‘n’ roll with Dylan, Robbie Robertson and co. decided in 1976 that enough, frankly, was enough. Cue a cast of musical legends ready to say farewell: Dylan, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young all stepped up to pay tribute to the one-time Hawks. Shot by Martin Scorcese, this is one of the most beautiful musical documents put to film. Intriguing trivia: editing was held up as Scorcese had to avoid showing a large lump of cocaine attached to the nostril of Neil Young.

3. Sonic Youth – 1991: The Year Punk Broke

The grunge explosion captured on celluloid. Now slightly dated, the mere novelty of watching Babes In Toyland and Dinosaur Jr in the local multiplex must have seemed revelatory at the time. Aside from the groundbreaking music what shines through this film is the sense of camaraderie between the bands. All had struggled before ‘91 – after, none would have to wait in line again. This film represents a golden chance to see the lost American underground, including the innocent young eyes of one Kurt Cobain.

4. Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense

One of the most daring tour films ever created and its lasting legacy? An enormous suit. How David Byrne must rue the day he told his tailor to leave it long on the sleeves. That said, this film documents one of America’s most gloriously innovative and idiosyncratic bands in all of their live glory. Well staged and expertly shot, “Stop Making Sense” more than justified the $1.5 million the band themselves pumped into the project, redefining what it meant to produce a concert film.

5. Bob Dylan – Don’t Look Back

Essentially plotless, difficult to follow and featuring a heck of a lot of dull conversation, DA Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back” has a surprising amount of faults for a work of genius. Yet it remains a classic, documenting Dylan’s snotty, narcissistic era perfectly. The scene where Dylan dismantles an enterprising young journalist working for a student newspaper is just one of many delights in this remarkable account of what it means to have an entire generation live by your every word.

6. U2 – Rattle And Hum

Poor old U2. They always promise to incorporate new elements into their music yet are dependably the same, dreary band that lurched into the UK post-punk scene nearly 30 years ago. The one area where they have definitely expanded artistically is in tour films – they’ve made loads of them. “Rattle and Hum” was the first, and captures them at their band = social force zenith. Bono: he can make lame men walk but he can’t turn “Discotheque” into a tune.

7. Pink Floyd – Live At Pompeii

For all those who say the Floyd went sane with the loss of Syd Barrett, behold! “Live At Pompeii” features the world’s greatest prog band playing before an audience of volcano-induced ghosts. Cowering in the ruins of an ancient amphitheatre the band seem to find their perfect setting, with the classical buildings matching their grandiose chords. Covering the era between Syd’s departure and “Dark Of The Moon” extravagance, this film is a one-off chance to witness a band changing direction, and setting controls for the heart of the sun.

8. Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same

Now that the ‘Zep have reunited and everyone’s hunky dory with their overblown blues thievery its probably a good time to point out how hilarious this film is. Any movie that shows Robert Plant charging – on horseback – across Wales searching for the Holy Grail is worth seeing. Add in the fact that the film also shows infamous manager Peter Grant being carted away in a police car and it’s practically a must see. All except for Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertugan, who fell asleep during the premiere.

9. Social Distortion – Another State Of Mind

Punks today don’t know they’re living. When early hardcore act Social Distortion took to the road alongside compadres Youth Brigade, punk meant being spat on in the street, assaulted at clubs and struggling to eat. Documenting a typically disastrous 1982 tour, directors Adam Small and Peter Stuart unwittingly documented the heart and soul of the early American punk scene. The film ends with the break up of Social Distortion, friendships broken and dreams scattered. When asked if it was all worth it, Youth Brigade member Shawn Stern is unequivocal: “Yeah, I’d say it was worth it”.

10. Stax Records – Wattstax

The ‘black Woodstock’ set in an area of crushing poverty in Los Angeles, with the iconic Stax roster performing to over 100,000 people. As much an exercise in exploring black identity as a film about music, “Wattstax” features appearances from African-American icons such as Jesse Jackson and Richard Pryor. With Watts still reeling from massive race riots, the price for the concert was kept to $1, to enable anyone – no matter their means – to attend. A towering cinematic and musical achievement, as well as a testament to one of soul music’s greatest ever labels.

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