No time like the present to catch up on rock ‘n’ roll concerts and documentaries, as America’s streaming services have got all us shut-ins covered.
Here’s a rundown of some of the best things out there on Netflix and Amazon Prime right now. Crank it up! (but wash your hands first).
The Grateful Dead
It’s a Deadhead paradise on the streaming landscape, although it’s likely that most diehards will have seen these three films already … the nature of that sort of fandom, you know. The Grateful Dead Movie (Amazon Prime) came out – in theaters! – back in 1977. It chronicles a series of San Francisco shows at the end of 1974, when the band was getting set to take a two-year hiatus. This is the “wall of sound” era – the Dead’s P.A. equipment was as tall as the Winterland ceiling. The four-hour Long Strange Trip (Amazon Prime) was executive-produced by Martin Scorsese in 2017, and is a treasure trove of footage, and audio, from the pre-Warlocks days to life without Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. Garcia, however, pretty much narrates this amazingly detailed film through archival interviews. The surviving band members, of course, all weigh in. One of them is Bob Weir, who chronicles the Dead experience in detail in The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir (Netflix). Weir played Jannus Landing here in St. Pete barely three weeks ago.
This week on The Boss’s official Twitter account: “Practice social distancing and stream London Calling: Live In Hyde Park from the comfort of your own home, now on YouTube and Apple Music in its entirety for the first time!” And voila, the 2009 concert performance – the last time Clarence Clemons performed in Great Britain – was there in all its hard-rocking glory. Kicking off with a gut-punch cover of the Clash classic “London Calling” (with Steve Van Zant taking lead on a verse or two) it’s a great show. Not as great as Springsteen-in-the-day, of course, but he and the E Street Band can still light the ol’ fire. And Netflix is still streaming the three-hour Springsteen On Broadway, his solo show that’s heavy on storytelling. It goes on a bit too long, but he’s a master at combining emotional music and profound prose.
It’s always good news when The Last Waltz is just a few clicks away. Screening on Amazon Prime, Martin Scorsese’s document of The Band’s big farewell show, over Thanksgiving 1976, has aged remarkably well, despite the unfettered arrogance on display by group leader Robbie Robertson (in his autobiography, the late Levon Helm said that ending The Band, and making this film, were Robertson’s idea and that none of the others were in favor of it). Be that as it may, it catches many of music’s high-end names – including Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison – at the height of their powers. And it’s beautifully shot. And this is the way we want to remember Muddy Waters, Dr. John and Levon’s Bandmates Richard Manuel and Rick Danko. And yes, the Neil Diamond sequence is still hard to sit through. Opinions were divided on Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story (Netflix), a “documentary” about Dylan’s legendary gypsy-like American tour in 1975. While the concert performances are riveting, the use of actors to sit in as fictional tour promoters and hangers-on stops being funny about 15 minutes in.
Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years, the Ron Howard-directed documentary chronicling the Beatlemania period (1963-66) is an adrenaline rush from one tiny stage with bad equipment (“amps the size of a peanut” John Lennon once described it) to another; although Howard regrettable chose to include contemporary talking heads (Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver, who saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium and the Hollywood Bowl, respectively, as young girls), the restored footage looks (and sounds) great. There’s still never been anything like it in popular music (Amazon Prime). And the Beatles’ hugely influential record produce participating in the documentary Produced By George Martin, shortly before his death in 2018. The film (also on Amazon Prime) is, naturally, heavy on the Fab Four and Martin in the studio, but the coolest parts look back at his pre-Beatles work with the likes of the comedy trio the Goons, and other pop, jazz and even classical performers. Martin was a classic act all the way – and a brilliant record-maker.
Amy. Winner of an Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature, this biography of troubled British soul singer Amy Winehouse is eye-opening (Netflix).
Stop Making Sense. Along with The Last Waltz, Jonathan Demme’s concert film capturing Talking Heads in 1982 is a textbook example of how to do these things right (Amazon Prime).
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. With the recent death of drummer/songwriter Neal Peart, this riveting documentary about the Canadian power trio feels especially poignant (Netflix).
Majikat – Earth Tour 1976. Yusuf, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, has made this wonderful concert film – a document of the last-ever Cat Stevens American tour – available in full on YouTube.
Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America. With the Rolling Stones’ planned American tour this summer postponed until further notice, this doc about the band’s 2016 (deep) southerly swing will have to suffice for now (Netflix).