One of the biggest losses we’ve had to endure as a result of all this social distancing is the ability to attend live events. Summer is around the corner, and many of us had tickets to festivals and other concerts that were sure to be the highlights of the next few months.
However, as this pandemic continues to spread and take the lives of our most vulnerable populations, most live events have been cancelled, meaning that this summer we won’t have to worry about missing out on our favorite shows while we’re out partying it up at festivals and concerts.
But just because we can’t go to live concerts doesn’t mean we can’t get a taste of it while locked up in self-isolation. There are tons of great documentaries out there that feature footage from live shows played all over the world, many of which have gone down as some of the most epic in music history.
To be clear, we’re not necessarily advocating that these are the best music documentaries out there, but rather that these films rock, and also teach you something about the world in which we live. So, if you’re itching for some live music during all this madness, we recommend you check them out if you haven’t already.
1. Searching for Sugarman (2012)
This is probably one of the strangest stories the music world has ever known. Essentially, an American rocker named Rodriguez, who bottomed out in the US very early in his career, became a huge star in Apartheid-era South Africa during the 1980s as people grew increasingly restless and rebellious due to the oppressive regime that was in power.
However, in an attempt to quell social discontent, South African authorities banned a lot of media, such as music, movies, and literature. To listen to Rodriguez, many South African listeners had to obtain bootleg copies of his work, and no one ever saw him play live. Eventually, it became common knowledge that he had died, with many believing he left Earth in a dramatic on-stage suicide.
This film, Searching for Sugarman, named after one of Rodriguez’ most well-known songs, tracks the journey of two South African music fans as they follow Rodriguez’ story and try to find out what really happened to him. The story is fascinating, and the music is excellent. There are quite a few twists and turns along the way that make it feel like what you’re watching is not real life.
2. The Last Waltz (1978)
The Band is one of those groups that most people have heard of but never “heard of.” Some of their hits, such as “Across the Great Divide” and “Rag Mama Rag” are classics that most people hear and say “who is this?”
Overall, The Band has had a tremendous impact on music history, with Roger Waters calling their debut album “Music from Big Pink” one of the albums that most influence Pink Floyd, one band we can all agree changed music forever.
This documentary, The Last Waltz, documents The Band as they played their farewell show at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1976. It’s directed by Martin Scorsese and features performances by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, and Muddy Waters.
It’s an excellent look into the mid-1970s rock scene, and there is also a ton of great music. If you’re a fan of The Band and their colleagues, you will fall in love with this film, but even if you’re not, this is an excellent documentary to scratch the live music itch while everything else is cancelled.
3. Made in Sheffield: The Birth of Electronic Pop (2002)
If you’re a fan of the Arctic Monkeys, then perhaps you’re familiar with some of Sheffield’s music history, as this is where the group originated from. But perhaps you didn’t know that music in Sheffield has a history that’s even richer. In fact, many believe that the electronic pop movement that emerged in the early 2000s out of the decline of punk and the transition away from guitars and towards synthesizers as the primary instrument of the 21st century actually began in Sheffield.
Not convinced? Then watch this film, as the whole thing tries to convince of this argument. And it does a pretty good job of it. But even if you don’t buy into the argument, it features some pretty great music by early electro-pop superstars such as The Human League, Heaven 17, and Cabaret Voltaire, all of whom hail from Sheffield and have had a tremendous impact on the electronic pop movement.
4. Gimme Shelter (1970)
If you’re looking for a film that includes both great music and a snapshot of how rock n’ roll changed the world, then look no further than Gimme Shelter. This documentary gives us an inside look at the free concert The Rolling Stones played at California’s Altamont Speedway in 1969 to cap off their US tour. For this reason alone this documentary is amazing, as it gives you the chance to relive one of the most epic concerts of all times.
However, this film goes a step further because it also includes footage of the stabbing of Meredith Hunter by Hells Angel Alan Passaro during the performance. This tragedy not only entirely changed the mood of the concert, but it has also served as a symbol for an ending era. The 1960s were a decade of great optimism and idealism, but this had started to wane, and somehow, this event seemed to capture the changing of the tide that was occurring in the world at the time.
For rock n’ roll fans, this documentary is a must watch, and the footage from the concert will send shivers up your spine that almost – almost – replace the thrill of a live concert.
5. Punk in Africa (2002)
For this last documentary, we’re heading back to South Africa, and once again, the oppressive Apartheid regime is the centrepiece of the drama. Essentially, punk music in South Africa had a tremendous impact on the nation’s youth as they grew tired of the governments institutionalized racism and horrendous economic policies, both of which isolated the nation and caused it great pain.
This film documents the stories of several punk groups in South Africa, many of whom formed in the 1970s, that were at the centre of the resistance movement that eventually brought reform to the country and allowed it to begin to heal.
It also goes on to discuss the role music has played in resistance movements in other countries in Africa, which have been subjected to tremendous social upheaval and authoritarian governments since the end of the Second World War, when decolonisation was sweeping across the continent and changing everything.
As a result, this documentary will not only introduce you to music you’ve probably never heard before, and that you are sure to like, but it also serves as a stark reminder of how important music can be in galvanizing the human spirit and unifying it in support of a common cause, a message that is sure to be important in today’s very uncertain times.
While it’s true most of us won’t be able to watch music live until probably this fall, let’s not let this get us down. We’re all self-isolating for the good of mankind, and there are plenty of ways to scratch that music itch which you’re at home. And who knows, watching these films might introduce you to some new music and give you even more reasons to head out to shows once this madness finally ends.