Concert films are not a new concept really; it's already been done countless times ever since professional video cameras became durable enough to withstand the harsh (at times inhospitable) conditions of live concerts. It's a standalone genre by itself, usually shot in documentary fashion, where concert footage are spliced together with behind the scenes material and interviews. Concert films enjoyed great popularity throughout the 70's and the 80's - Pink Floyd, David Bowie, AC/DC and many others saw great success in their films. Such hagiography even spawned one of the funniest movies of all time: This Is Spinal Tap, a satirical parody of rock documentaries featuring a fictional band who took their music and themselves too seriously.
In recent years however I'm sure we've all seen the steady increase of output in regards to the concert film genre. I suppose we can blame it on the breakthrough of 3D technology though. Justin Bieber's Never Say Never, Katy Perry's Part Of Me, and the Jonas Brothers movie all rub the whole 3D concert gimmick in our faces as if we needed another reason not to watch it. Even Metallica's jumping on the '3D concert experience' bandwagon with their recently announced concert/feature film Through The Never. You gotta admit, they're stepping up the game for concert films these days - that movie looks like it actually has a story and plot aside from simply Metallica being Metallica on stage. It's a bold move by a bold band, but we'll never know for sure if the 3D concept works for them until we watch the film for ourselves.
The thing is, you don't need 3D to make a concert film good. What you need is good film direction, outstanding aesthetics, great musical performances and a lot of heart. Here's 5 modern concert films you definitely should watch.
Sigur Rós | Heima (2007)
Quite honestly, it'll be the most beautiful concert film you'll ever watch, period. Icelandic post-rock legends Sigur Rós return to their stunningly picturesque homeland in 2006 for a series of free concerts around the country. The documentary follows them around their tour as they play in the most unconventional of places (including abandoned fish factories, coffee shops, in the middle of nowhere) and speak of their memories growing up in Iceland. In typical Sigur Rós fashion, the movie is a fantastic, almost magical journey through majestic landscapes AND soundscapes. It'll make you realise how their music stems from such an elegant but lonesome place, and how it pains you to be living in unremarkable Singapore. Go watch Heima online! They've made it available for streaming on YouTube.
The Rolling Stones | Shine A Light (2008)
When you have someone as prolific as Martin Scorsese directing a concert film, you know it's gonna be a good one. It's rock and roll at it's most spectacular, focusing on the Stones' 2-day shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York (which was also US ex-prez Bill Clinton's birthday bash). What made the film special was that they were playing a tonne of rare material, stuff you wouldn't hear live in any other shows. Scorsese also interspersed their performance footage with historical clips and archived interviews of the band, providing a deeper look into their legacy 44 years on since their formation in 1962. The shows also featured guest performances by Jack White, Christina Aguilera and Buddy Guy so you know it's a hella good time.
The White Stripes | Under Great White Northern Lights (2009)
The White Stripes carried out a very ambitious Canadian tour in 2007 that had them visiting every province and territory in Canada to play live. It's heartwarming to see the Detroit duo make their way through Canada with surprise appearances in cafes, a city bus, and a community center for some very appreciative Innuit elders. In the same palette of the rawness that defines The White Stripes, Northern Lights maintains that same aesthetic with grainy black-and-white and colour footage of the band's electrifying presence onstage. Offstage, director Emmett Malloy brings out attention to the duo's very enigmatic relationship, with Jack doing most of the talking while Meg looks at him tenderly. The White Stripes are at their most visceral and their most intimate, and that makes a absolutely riveting film in itself.
Broken Social Scene | This Movie Is Broken (2010)
There's a lot of a Broken Social Scene experience in this film, although it's not a documentary per say. The Toronto supergroup is filmed performing at the Harbourfront in a surprise show following the cancellation of the Olympic Island Festival due to the 2009 Toronto Worker's Strike (garbage was everywhere). But it's no simple concert film; the movie sidelines as a romcom as well. It's a bittersweet, instrospective love story that seems fit for a Broken Social Scene show, especially one as big as their Harbourfront show which had ex-band members and frequent collaborators on stage at the same time (including Amy Millan of Stars, Emily Haines of Metric, Feist and more).
LCD Soundsystem | Shut Up And Play The Hits (2012)
It's a proven-to-be-successful formula really. Play your last show ever in one of the greatest concert venues ever, get it documented, release it as a feature film. Shut Up and Play The Hits is gorgeously shot, footage of the final concert at Madison Square Garden is interspersed with moments 48-hours prior to the concert, following frontman James Murphy around, from quiet time in his apartment in lounge pants and his dog to desperate moments of near abandon of the show. Murphy comes across as articulate and grounded as he grapples with the onset of age and the desire to settle down. The way it is filmed, Shut Up and Play The Hits immortalises not only the band's final show but is also a moving and powerful film that shows rockumentaries do not need sensational elements (sex, drugs, hedonism) to make it compelling.