Michael Jackson's swan song This is It is filling theaters worldwide, offering a final look at the late King of Pop in action.
While technically not a concert movie — Jackson is shown rehearsing the tour that never happened — This is It got me thinking about my favorites of all time. (Yes, kiddies, music superstars were filming live performances for theatrical release long before Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.)
A few parameters: I'm thinking of filmed concerts, not documentaries such as Metallica's Some Kind of Monster, the Dixie Chicks' Shut Up and Play or Bob Dylan's seminal Don't Look Back that equally focused on celebrity dynamics and live performances. I don't pretend to have seen every concert movie, so highly regarded ones like the Beastie Boys' Awesome, I F'n Shot That! and Pink Floyd's Live at Pompeii aren't here.
These are 10 movies that were, for me, the next-best things to being there.
1 Stop Making Sense (1984)
Mixing performance art (David Byrne's big suit!) with Talking Heads' irresistible pop-punk (Psycho Killer, Take Me to the River), director Jonathan Demme created an intimate, infectious concert flick.
2 The Last Waltz (1978)
Like The Wild Bunch, Martin Scorsese's film chronicled outlaws making their last stand. The Band's final performance together was historic not only for its lineup (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and more) but for capturing an era dying before disco.
3 Woodstock (1970)
You knew this one had to make the list. Once you look beyond the Flower Power nostalgia, there's a massive amount of landmark talent displayed: Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner and Voodoo Chile, the Who's Summertime Blues, the dawn of Sly and the Family Stone. The music lived while the karma faded a few months later with . . .
4 Gimme Shelter (1970)
Albert and David Maysles kept their cameras trained on the end of Aquarius at San Francisco's Altamont Speedway, where the Rolling Stones headlined with Hell's Angels working security. The murder of a concertgoer marred the memory but not the music by the Stones, Flying Burrito Brothers and Jefferson Airplane.
5 Monterey Pop (1968)
D. A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back) created the first rock concert flick I ever saw, forever changing the life of a 12-year-old Alabama bumpkin. It was my first experience with Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who, Otis Redding — heck, just about everyone on the bill. Rent it. Now.
6 Festival Express (2003)
Don't let the 21st century release fool you. The footage was shot in 1970 during a Canadian megatour then sat in a warehouse for 30 years before lawyers set it free. Imagine riding a train from gig to gig and jamming with the Grateful Dead, Joplin, the Band, even Sha Na Na.
7 Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll (1987)
Chuck Berry's 60th birthday party at the Fox Theater in St. Louis had a stellar guest list: Keith Richards, Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James and Julian Lennon. They all bow to the master, along with admirers (on the DVD version) including Bruce Springsteen and Roy Orbison.
8 Shine a Light (2008)
I don't think any band has more concert movies than the Rolling Stones. This one got an extra boost from IMAX dimensions and sound, with Scorsese directing another rock 'n' roll valentine. Highlights: Mick Jagger and Christina Aguilera melting microphones on Live with Me, Richards making a guitar weep on As Tears Go By, and every Stones hit that you thought you'd heard too many times.
9 The Song Remains the Same (1976)
Okay, so I fell asleep at a midnight showing of Led Zeppelin's odd mix of live performing and filmed fantasies. But concert movies — and most concerts — are about making pilgrimages to pay tribute, not remain conscious.
10 Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2005)
Inspired by 1973's Wattstax (which almost made this list), Chappelle gathers Kanye West, Common, Mos Def and a reunion of the Fugees for an impromptu concert celebrating inner-city diversity and community.