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Documentaries/Concert Films

Festival ExpressFestival Express (2004)

The 1970 Festival Express rail tour across Canada was certainly not successful for the promoters, and it isn’t particularly well-remembered today, but for the artists, with an entire train to themselves, an endless supply of booze (don’t miss the scene where they buy out the liquor store in Saskatoon), and once-in-a-lifetime jam sessions, it was pure magic. This film really captures that spirit and brings to light some truly incredible performances.

Don’t Miss: Though packed with amazing footage, and thankfully plenty of full length numbers from the various concerts the highlight is undoubtedly a very inebriated Rick Danko jamming on “Ain’t No More Cain” with Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia on board the train. For my money, one of the best scenes in any film, ever.

The Last WaltzThe Last Waltz (1978)

Probably the most famous rock film ever made. Martin Scorsese captures The Band’s legendary 1976 Farewell Concert at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. Some of the biggest names in rock music deliver world class performances, and The Band proves why they were considered the best in the business.  Rick Danko sings a heartbreaking version of “It Makes No Difference,” and Southern boy Levon Helm pours his soul into “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Serious musical mastery punctuated by Neil Young’s now infamous coke booger, Van Morrison’s spastic rhinestoned high-kicks, and the seeming incongruity of Neil Diamond’s general presence. A true classic all around.

Don’t Miss: Again, picking a highlight out of two of the best hours in rock history is no easy task. And actually, my favorite performance was recorded after the concert itself but there’s no denying the power of The Staples Singers joining The Band for a version of “The Weight” that absolutely burns the house down.

Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin (2003)

Unlike some of the major bands in American music history there isn’t all that much live footage of Zep in circulation. Until this eponymous two-disc powerhouse DVD the only real offering out there was The Song Remains the Same. Though the material in Led Zeppelin spans 9 years of live performances, the bulk of the film comes from their 1970 show at Royal Albert Hall. The running time on this beast is 5 hours and 20 minutes but for any Zeppelin fan, every second is pure gold.

Don’t Miss: Shut off all the lights, silence any talkers, and turn it up rrreal loud when Jimmy Page pulls out the bow for “Dazed and Confused” at the Royal Albert Hall. This scene alone should earn the film an R rating…

The Complete Monterey Pop FestivalThe Complete Monterey Pop Festival (2002)

In June 1967 the Monterey County Fairgrounds played host to the first of the major music festivals. With a lineup that rivals any festival before or since Monterey Pop was the national introduction of artists like Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin (the look on Mama Cass’ face during her performance says it all). Legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker captures the spirit of Rock & Roll on the threshold of the Summer of Love. The Criterion Collection 2002 box set features not only the masterful original edit, released theatrically in 1968, but two discs of additional footage, interviews, and commentary.

Don’t Miss: Disc 2, the full sets of both Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding. This is Hendrix’s breakout U.S. performance culminating in his signature musical immolation (Pennebaker’s close-up shots of stunned audience members are priceless). With his appearance at Monterey Otis Redding burst off the Chitlin’ Circuit and into national stardom, only six months before his tragic death. Both performances are absolutely spellbinding.

Woodstock MovieWoodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (1970)

The Woodstock movie has almost become as iconic as the festival itself. With its unmistakable split screen styling, lack of titling or narration, juxtaposition of live performance and candid audience footage, Woodstock is more than a film – it’s a cultural artifact.  For most of the world the film is as close as they’ll ever get to that legendary Aquarian Exposition. Thankfully Michael Wadleigh and company captured some of the most integral moments – a sweat drenched Richie Havens improvising one of the great Woodstock anthems, Joe Cocker pouring his soul out on “With a Little Help from My Friends,” Grace Slick as the angel of Morning Maniac Music, Santana igniting the crowd and launching his career, Sly and the Family Stone taking everyone “Higher,” Jimi Hendrix’s legendary “Star Spangled Banner” and of course the now infamous warning about that dreaded brown acid.  The Woodstock movie is a time capsule for those three days of peace and music that will live on forever.

Don’t Miss: It’s hard to believe that Joe Cocker and Santana were almost unknown pre-Woodstock. Both of their performances are superstar status jaw dropping.

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