Ten Entertaining and Engaging Concert Films and Music Documentaries You Can Stream Right Now
From classic sets to twist-filled tales — and yes, dancing in your lounge room is perfectly acceptable.
May 08, 2020
Whether capturing a concert in full or piecing together a career overview, a great music documentary ticks two boxes. If it doesn't leave you with a new appreciation for and understanding of its subject — even if you already adored the band or musician in the spotlight, and thought you knew everything there possibly is to know — then it isn't doing its job. And if it doesn't take care of your music playlist for the hours, days and even weeks afterwards, well, there's something missing as well.
We know this because music docos are a stacked genre. Name a group or performer, and odds are they've earned the documentary treatment. They're a popular genre, too — because who doesn't want to watch a movie about bands and musos they like?
Alas, while plenty of cameras have been pointed at plenty of talent over the years, not every great music doco is available to stream. Some big hitters, like the Rolling Stones-focused Gimme Shelter, David Bowie concert flick Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Beastie Boys' crowd-filmed Awesome, I Fuckin' Shot That and the Chemical Brothers' Don't Think aren't currently accessible, for example. But others are — so we've rounded up ten ace documentaries and concert films that are presently on offer at the click of a button. And yes, dancing in your lounge room is perfectly acceptable.
STOP MAKING SENSE
When David Byrne walks out onto a Hollywood stage circa 1983 in Stop Making Sense, he brings a tape deck with him. With no one else around him, he presses play, takes hold of the microphone and begins to sing one of Talking Heads' best-known songs: 'Psycho Killer'. That's not how concerts usually kick off — but it's instantly memorable. Everything about this energetic and precisely executed documentary, which records the show from start to finish, earns the same description. Directed by future The Silence of the Lambs Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme, each element of the film is fine-tuned, and every element of the band's performance, too. Expect a lineup of hits, a playful approach, Byrne's famous big suit and even bigger stage presence, and the feeling that you're virtually in the room.
Stop Making Sense is available to stream via DocPlay.
HOMECOMING: A FILM BY BEYONCE
April 14, 2018, will forever go down in history as the day Beyoncé took to the Coachella stage and made it her own. If you were lucky enough to be there, you'll no doubt remember it forever. If you watched the live stream — and it became the most-watched live-streamed performance of all time, so you probably did — then you'll never forget it either. Whichever category you fell into, you likely wished you were closer to the action — to the stage for the 137-minute performance, to the 100-plus dancers, to its powerful homage to America's historically black colleges and universities, and to the backstage antics as well. That's where Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé comes in, with the engaging and intimate concert documentary not only capturing the huge festival performance (and that Destiny's Child reunion), but weaving in behind-the-scenes footage and candid chats that delve into the preparation process and explain Bey's stunning vision.
Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé is available to stream via Netflix.
BEASTIE BOYS STORY
The idea behind Beastie Boys Story is simple. After Adam 'Ad-Rock' Horovitz and Michael 'Mike D' Diamond wrote a book about their career, called Beastie Boys Book, they then talked audiences through it in a series of Spike Jonze-helmed live shows, called Beastie Boys Show — and the Adaptation and Her director filmed them. As a result, this doco tells the Beasties' tale direct from the source; however the hip hop group's surviving two members are candid, heartfelt and definitely not interested in sugarcoating their ups and downs. Along the way, Jonze weaves in an array of excellent archival footage, as well as plenty of the Beasties' tracks and music videos. Yes, that includes the iconic 'Sabotage' clip, aka one of the best music videos of all time. That's all great, fun, and both smartly and entertainingly structured, but just watching Ad-Rock and Mike D chat is the clear highlight. And when Ad-Rock sits down on stage to talk about the person missing — Adam 'MCA' Yauch, who died in 2012 from cancer — your eyes won't stay dry.
Beastie Boys Story is available to stream via Apple TV+.
Told on screen via text, the story behind concert documentary Amazing Grace is worth its own movie. Over two nights in January 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded her best-selling gospel album of the same name at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, with the Southern California Community Choir as backing singers, and with filmmaker Sydney Pollack on hand to capture the whole thing. But, due to both technical and legal issues — and Franklin suing to stop the movie's belated release before her death — the end result didn't make it to the big screen until just last year. Nearly half a century is a long time to wait; however, this doco is worth it. Amazing Grace is joyous for many reasons, including witnessing the Queen of Soul's talent, paying tribute in an intimate fashion, and seeing the effect of faith and artistry on the on-screen audience. And when Franklin sings the title track for 11 minutes, it's a moment no one will forget in a hurry.
A BAND CALLED DEATH
In the introduction to this article, we noted that a music doco should do two things. A few achieve something else as well: they open your eyes to a story, and to a musical talent, that you likely wouldn't have known about otherwise. A Band Called Death is one of those documentaries. You mightn't have heard of 70s hard rock outfit Death, the Detroit group widely considered to be the first punk band, otherwise — but once you've made their acquaintance, you'll want to discover more. Directors Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett are rightfully certain of this, because that's what record collectors started doing when Death's 1975 album ...For the Whole World to See was finally released in 2009. And yes, A Band Called Death covers that part of the story, too.
SIGN O' THE TIMES
As Purple Rain wholeheartedly proved, there are few things as entrancing as watching the late, great Prince on-screen across a hefty chunk of time. If you'd rather see him do what he did best in a whole concert film — or you loved Purple Rain's live performance scenes so much that you want more, which is completely understandable — then Sign o' the Times has you covered. The purple one sings, obviously, largely sticking to tracks from the 1987 album that shares the film's name. He dances like no one other than Prince can. And, he also wears oh-so-many skimpy jumpsuits. Between songs such as 'Little Red Corvette' and 'If I Was Your Girlfriend', the concert doco also weaves in a narrative, should you be keen on a bit of a story with your sultry, slinky, toe-tapping Prince tunes.
Sign o' the Times is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
THE PUNK SINGER
She helped start the riot grrrl movement, became the voice of 90s punk feminism and, when she spray-painted "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit" across her pal Mr Cobain's wall, inspired the name of a certain grunge anthem. We're talking about Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna — who also went on to release her own solo work and front late 90s/early 00s electro-rock group Le Tigre. From crafting art-school fashion shows that comment on sexual assault, to forcing gig crowds let girls to the front so they could mosh without being accosted, Hanna's story is as lengthy as it is fascinating, as The Punk Singer chronicles. This fantastic doco not only steps through its subject's career, explains her impact, explores her quest to share her feminist principles and exposes the many obstacles in her way, but also gets frank and intimate when it comes to her step back from performing due to health reasons in 2005. It also features insights from Hanna's husband, if you didn't get enough of Ad-Rock in Beastie Boys Story.
The Punk Singer is available to stream via iTunes.
As the insightful film Gurrumul conveys, the late Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was a musician and a man utterly unlike anyone else. Making his first feature, director Paul Damien Williams charts Yunupingu's days from childhood to his passing, painting a captivating portrait of one of Australia's undisputed icons. Sometimes, the documentary is happy to simply sit and watch as Yunupingu does what he does so sublimely: sing and play, his voice ringing out over the top of his own guitar or even paired with an orchestra. Sometimes, the movie delves deep into Yunupingu's clearly reclusive nature, whether he's keeping mum in interviews, preferring to stay at home, or failing to show up at the airport for what would've been a career-defining trip to America. The end result is a dense, rare and haunting documentary modelled in its subject's image, proving as beautiful, intimate, layered and revelatory as the artist's remarkable songs.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE + THE TENNESSEE KIDS
Filmmaker Jonathan Demme strikes again with Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, giving JT the same lively, entertaining and immaculately choreographed concert doco treatment that he did Talking Heads in the aforementioned Stop Making Sense. Even if you're not much of a fan of the former *NSYNC member when you start watching Demme's documentary, you're unlikely to find your attention levels dropping even for a second, as the movie constantly finds something dazzling to thrust in front of the lens. Usually, that's Timberlake. He's a top-notch live performer, and his efforts and talents are firmly on display here. Also on offer: a set list filled with familiar tracks. And, as the film's name makes plain, JT's band The Tennessee Kids also earns — and deserves — the camera's focus.
Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids is available to stream via Netflix.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
Before A Band Called Death stepped through the kind of music story that's so filled with twists and turns that it could only be true, Searching for Sugar Man did the same. The Oscar-winning doco's subject: Sixto Rodriguez, an American musician who was hugely popular in the 70s in South Africa, other African countries, and also Australia and New Zealand. After hearing rumours of Rodriguez's death in the late 90s, two fans tried to work out if it was true — with Swedish documentarian Malik Bendjelloul charting their efforts and revelations. Rodriguez is no stranger to Australia's shores, so part of the movie's discoveries won't come as a surprise to many viewers Down Under; however this film still proves informative and enthralling at every turn. Also, it'll get Rodriguez's track 'Sugar Man' stuck in your head.
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