Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense (1984)
Filmed over four different nights in the mid-80s at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre, this film follows art rock troubadours Talking Heads in one of their most celebrated performances of their career. The film, directed by the Oscar-winning Jonathan Demme, kicks off with a close-up of bandleader David Byrne, who musters the iconic, “Hi, I got a tape I want to play you.” As Byrne begins a nervy rendition of “Psycho Killer,” he slowly brings out the rest of the band to turn out a psychedelic fever dream of a performance.
The Notorious B.I.G: I Got A Story To Tell (2021)
This Netflix documentary about beloved hip-hop legend The Notorious B.I.G unearths the rapper’s more personal and caring side. I Got A Story To Tell gets us closer to the often misunderstood icon by crafting a clever counterpoint between testimonials by Biggie’s friends and family, old footage of him in his childhood home, and behind-the-scenes shots from his energetic live shows. From a kid growing up in Brooklyn admiring Salt-n-Pepa to selling out venues all over the country, this doc shows the whole story and will have you hanging on to every rhyme dropped.
Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace (2018)
Amazing Grace shuffles footage shot during the live recording of the namesake 1972 album Amazing Grace, set at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Alongside the Southern California Community Choir, Franklin shows off her signature voice in this hypnotic performance that builds up into a crashing crescendo of feel-good gospel goodness.
The White Stripes: Under the Great White Northern Lights (2009)
This film follows garage rock duo The White Stripes on their first-ever country-wide Canadian tour. The film’s title alludes to the Northern Lights, an extraordinary and hard to find natural backdrop. However, the film goes against the grain by showing the band in ordinary, monotonous places — such as cafes and city buses — that seem unfit for a band with an already massive fan base. The intercept between weird and cool is literally Jack White in a nutshell.
Wu-Tang Clan: Rock The Bells (2006)
Rock The Bells is a behind-the-scenes documentary film that looks into the grim—and imaginative—hip hop collective Wu-Tang Clan. The film chronicles the efforts and measures taken to get the group back together for a final performance at the namesake Rock the Bells hip hop festival in 2004, only four months before Old Dirty Bastard’s death. Spoiler alert: the old band gets back together eventually.
Prince: Sign O’ The Times (1987)
Prince was a talented music creator, a world-class entertainer, and in case you forgot, a film screenwriter and director. The Purple One took on such duties for Sign O’ The Times, this 1987 concert film that segues shots from his European tour with material filmed at his Paisley Park compound in Minneapolis. His larger-than-life performances and stage presence are still thrilling and unmatched and the content is much less problematic than his 1984 feature film, Purple Rain.
Soulwax: Part of The Weekend Never Dies (2008)
Part of the Weekend Never Dies follows the Belgian electronic band Soulwax during their 120-show world tour. Playing that many shows sounds exhausting, but the film explores the hustling with a sense of homage: within its varied locations and supported by visual nods to 1991’s cult film My Own Private Idaho, Part of the Weekend exposes the ups, downs, humour, and energy that are involved in a world tour.
The Band: The Last Waltz (1978)
What does a rock act have to do with the majestic and elegant, slow-burning ballroom dance that emerged in the Alps during the late 18th century? Nothing at all, unless that act is the roots-rock collective The Band. Aptly titled, The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a rockumentary that follows Robbie Robertson and his comrades on their farewell tour — a very Last Waltz that casts dancers as unexpected as Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton.
Beyoncé: Homecoming (2019)
Homecoming explores Beyoncé’s emotional road leading towards her confirmation as the first Black woman to headline at Coachella music festival—resulting in a historic performance nicknamed Beychella. Recorded at Coachella in 2018, Homecoming allowed Beyoncé to flex and show off her directorial abilities while putting on one of the most memorable shows that the desert valley music festival has ever hosted.
LCD Soundsystem: Shut up and Play the Hits (2012)
The beloved American dance-punk outfit LCD Soundsystem performed their (alleged) final performance at Madison Square Garden in 2011. Bandleader James Murphy made sure the big-venue gigs would still capture the band’s antics. Shut up and Play the Hits evidences that commitment—a self-imposed pledge to rock hard and dance their asses off in one of North America’s most holy live music venues.