As a general rule concert movies stink. Nothing can replace the experience of seeing a live band up-close-and-personal, the energy of the crowd or feeling the spray from flying fingers on a sweat soaked fret board.
Often the only thing concert films have over a live show is the absence of a guy who looks like the Big Lebowski and smells like the inside of Cheech and Chong’s bong sitting in the seat next to you.
This week the world gets a look at the greatest concert that never was, Michael Jackson’s rehearsals for his comeback tour. Is This is It a great film? No, but like the best concert films it works because it captures a time and performance that will never be duplicated.
The best-known concert film, Woodstock, is also more than just a series of musical performances; it’s the movie that defined the hippie era.
It’s a vivid document of that wild weekend 40 years ago, so finely crafted it may be the next best thing to having been there. In fact, perhaps it’s better than the real thing, what with the hippie audience’s dubious affiliation to hygiene and the lack of port-a-potties on site.
Less known but just as electrifying is 1965’s The T.A.M.I. Show. It’s not as flashy as Woodstock — it was shot with TV cameras by a crew from The Steve Allen Show — but contains a show-stopping performance that Rick Rubin says “may be the single greatest rock & roll performance ever captured on film.”
Simply put James Brown rocks the house. Writer Nelson George described Brown’s incredible “camel-walking, proto-moon-walking” as an “athletically daring performance” and Prince is such a fan of the footage he has it playing on a loop on his office lobby television.
If Woodstock and T.A.M.I. showed the fun, hip side of the 1960s, Gimme Shelter is the flip side. Shot during the last ten days of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 North American tour and culminating with the stabbing death of audience member Meredith Hunter by the Hells Angels as the band plays Under My Thumb, it’s a startling look at the end of the 1960s.
Also worth a look are Sweet Toronto, a 1970 doc featuring John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie’s July 3, 1973 “retirement” concert and Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads live in Hollywood in 1983.
– Richard Crouse’s Movie Show can be seen every Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on the E! Channel; email@example.com.