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Missing live music? This rousing round-up of live music documentaries might help


By Lucy White
05th Oct 2020

Photo by Vishnu R Nair/Unsplash

Missing live music? This rousing round-up of live music documentaries might help

One of many lockdown downers is the cancellation of live music and festivals. Dig out these uplifting documentaries to remind ourselves what we have to look forward to


1 Amazing Grace, 2019

Gathering dust in the vaults for 38 years, this Aretha Franklin concert film shot in a Baptist church 1972 is a revelation – and the perfect, uplifting antidote for the coronacoaster. Barely a word is spoken in this glorious gospel set in which the American singer, then 29 years old, has the congregation, and us, the audience, eating out of her hand. Play it loud and proud. Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play

2 In Bed with Madonna, 1991

Madge fans were obsessed with Alek Keshishian’s on-the-road documentary, charting the singer’s epochal Blond Ambition tour, in which she offends the Vatican, slags Kevin Costner and memorably fellates an Evian bottle. As her then-beau, a bemused Warren Beatty, remarks, “she doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?”; a premonition of the Kardashians et al. But it’s the live, colour footage of the concert – in contrast with the grainy, behind-the-scenes monochrome – that justifies our love. Amazon Prime Video

3 Rattle and Hum, 1987

Whatever your feelings about Bono, go back to 1987 to remember what you loved about U2: The Joshua Tree. This Phil Joanou-directed travelogue follows the quartet as they tour their seminal album around America that again mixes colour and black and white footage, stage and studio scenes. Unsurprisingly, there are no sex, drugs, tantrums or tiaras here, but plentiful reasons to revisit the Dublin band’s former glories and perhaps add the 1987 record to your playlist (than have it foisted on you non-consensually, à la 2014’s Songs of Innocence).

4 Homecoming, 2018

For me, Beyoncé comes with so much celebrity baggage that it overshadows her talent. Homecoming reminds me why she’s famous and marks her out as contemporary pop’s best live performer. This Netflix doc chronicles her historic 2018 Coachella show, positioning her as the first black woman to headline the festival, and features rehearsals as well as the set itself. Don’t come here for an intimate portrait of a deity; Queen Bey will never grant us plebs that luxury. Do, though, come for her megawatt stage presence. Netflix

5 Miles Davis: Birth of Cool, 2019

If Davis’ Some Kind of Blue isn’t the album for the lockdown, I don’t know what is. Mellow moments par excellence, it’s a multitasking record ideal for working from home or for restoring any frayed nerves. Delve deeper still into the uncompromising musician/composer/bandleader’s oeuvre, with this film by Stanley Nelson, that celebrates the man behind the horn, who revolutionised jazz.

6 Miss Americana, 2020

Taylor Swift comes off way better than Lady Gaga does in her own snorefest doc, Five Foot Two, mostly because the former’s pluck and self-awareness is also imbued with wit and warmth. What they share in common is that Miss Americana is as polished (overproduced?) as any one of Taylor’s albums, however, there are also glimmers of charm here from an artist who, despite airing her dirty laundry in lyrics, is deceptively private. Netflix

7 Oasis: Supersonic, 2016

Strangely, Mat Whitecross’s documentary eschews the infamous Gallagher-sibling spats and Cool Britannia acrimony, but reminds fans why they created such a fuss back in the day, the film climaxing with the band’s career-defining concert at Knebworth in 1996. Disclaimer: While I’ve, er, graced many a dance floor playing Oasis songs over the years, the very idea of watching the eternal gobsheen that is Liam Gallagher for two hours fills me with despair. Still, my boyfriend insisted it go into this list. I’m more of a Blur fan myself… Netflix

8 Blur: No Distance Left to Run, 2010

From early shoegaze (She’s So High) to Mod boys (Popscene) to parody (Country House) to (Britop survivors (Tender), Blur have had quite the career. This decade-old documentary gently prods frontman Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon about their spat – perhaps too gently, but the live footage is exemplary: watch the full version that has the live at Hyde Park footage, and as the sum of its parts shows Albarn as the musical genius-in-progress that he has gone on to become. (Go further back in time still with 1993’s low-budget Starshaped, which witnesses the four-piece as tousled young pups on the brink of mainstream success). Amazon Prime Video


Read more: 25 feel-good, cocoon-worthy films

Read more: Lisa Hannigan tells Lucy White how she’s spending isolation

Read more: ‘Festivals of the future will be a hybrid of virtual and physical’ – Sorcha O’Reilly, artistic director of Kaleidoscope Festival