Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Top 5 Favorite Live Performance Documentaries...

1. 'The Last Waltz' (1978)

My all time favorite, 'The Last Waltz' was a concert by the Canadian rock group, The Band, held on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. For their final concert, The Band invited a dozen or so of their closest friends to join them in their finale: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Muddy Waters...oh, and don't forget BOB DYLAN!! The Band were the official back up band for Bob Dylan went he went electric in 1966 (see 'Don't Look Back' below) and that is how they became to be known simply as "The Band".

The event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese (yes, that Martin Scorsese who used to live with [read: do drugs with] The Band in upstate New York) and made into a documentary of the same name, which was then released in 1978. The film features concert performances, scenes shot on a studio soundstage and interviews by Scorsese with members of The Band. I watched 'The Last Waltz' about 30 times during the summer of 2003, I swear it got better each time.

Favorite Song:

"It Makes No Difference"/
"Helpless (Feat. Neil Young & Joni Mitchell)"

2. 'Stop Making Sense' (1984)

'Stop Making Sense' is the highly acclaimed concert film featuring Talking Heads live on stage during their 'Speaking in Tongues' tour. Directed by Jonathan Demme, it was shot over three nights in December 1983. Coming off as more of an art exhibit than an convential concert, the Talking Heads were at their apex of creation in late 1983, early 1984.

The movie is also notable for lead singer David Byrne's "big suit", an absurdly oversized business suit he dons late in the concert for the song "Girlfriend is Better" (which gave the movie its title from one of its lyrics). This concert film is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of the performance documentary genre. Film critic Leonard Maltin rated the film with four stars out of a possible four stars, describing it as "brilliantly conceived, shot, edited and performed" and "one of the greatest rock movies ever made."

Favorite Song:

"This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"

3. 'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979)

'Rust Never Sleeps' is Neil Young's 1978 concert tour, documented in this acclaimed two-hour film that was directed by Young himself (using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey). The concept of the show is, well, bizarre (not for Neil Young though), if not down right odd: roadies (here called "Road Eyes") decked out like the Tusken Raiders from Star Wars, stage announcements from the original Woodstock during set changes, and giant amps, microphones, and so on for an "Incredible Shrinking Man" effect.

Of course, it's the music that counts, and there's plenty of that, what with nearly 20 songs (including two versions of "Hey Hey, My My," his nod to the "punk is killing rock" movement), acoustic and electric (with longtime backing-band companions Crazy Horse), dating back to his days with Buffalo Springfield ("I Am a Child") and continuing through his popular solo numbers like "Cinnamon Girl" and the extended "Cortez the Killer."

Favorite Song:

"After the Gold Rush"/"Cortez the Killer"

4. 'Don't Look Back' (1967)

'Dont Look Back' is the 1967 documentary film by director D.A. Pennebaker that principally covers Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour of the United Kingdom. The film shows a young Dylan confident if not arrogant, confrontational and contrary, but somehow charismatic and charming at the same time. The scene in which Dylan argues with singer Donovan over "who threw the fucking glass?" is probably one of the most entertaining five minutes in recorded history.

In 1998, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Favorite Song:

"Like a Rolling Stone"

5. 'Rattle and Hum' (1988)

'Rattle and Hum' documents the 1987 North American tour of the rock band, U2. Fresh off the success of their best selling album, 'The Joshua Tree', the band play each song from somewhere deep in their spirit. Along the way, the band takes the opportunity in indulge in some special musical moments like playing with BB King and performing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking" with an all black gospel choir. All the while, concert footage of the band's soon-to-be biggest hits on the tour are featured while Bono speaks his mind on the problems of his homeland and the world at large (something we would come to bemoan years later).

Favorite Song:

"With or Without You"

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