Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2011)
The venue and orchestra accompanying Adele are grand, but Royal Albert Hall has a sense of intimacy that plays to the singer’s far-reaching appeal: Sure, she’s a huge star, but she’s also a regular gal who giggles at bawdy jokes and blows kisses to her friends.
Nirvana Live at the Paramount (2011)
Filmed in Seattle on Halloween ’91 only a few weeks after Nevermind came out (but only released last year), this unforgettable performance is stripped down to the essentials: huge songs and Kurt Cobain’s staggering, rage-filled charisma.
Under Great White Northern Lights (2010)
The most compelling figure in this stylish White Stripes tour doc isn’t force of nature Jack White but bandmate Meg. Off stage she’s sad-eyed and stoic, but on, she’s electrifyingly manic, demonstrating the transformative power of rock & roll.
Awesome; I F—in’ Shot That! (2006)
Before a Beastie Boys concert at Madison Square Garden, the late Adam ”MCA” Yauch gave camcorders to 50 fans and later cut together their footage. The resulting film is an exciting snapshot of the best rap group of all time.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
The performances in Jonathan Demme’s quirky flick about art-rock monsters the Talking Heads are all sublime (especially the sparse ”Psycho Killer”), but it’s best remembered for frontman David Byrne’s giant boxy suit.
Urgh! A Music War (1982)
The punk-rock revolution of the late ’70s spawned a sea change on both sides of the Atlantic. This breathless doc features the heroes of that new movement — including the Police, Joan Jett, and Devo (pictured) — in all their eye-popping, ear-gouging glory.
The Last Waltz (1978)
The Band’s legendary farewell show from Thanksgiving 1976 is so full of massive guest stars (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and Joni Mitchell) that it’s easy to forget that it’s also one of Martin Scorsese’s warmest and most kinetic directorial outings.
Wattstax does a solid job of showcasing the soulful turns by the likes of Isaac Hayes and the Staples Singers at “the black Woodstock,” but Richard Pryor’s interstitial narration and the day-in-the-life footage of post-riot Watts steal the show.
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973)
Master rockumentarian D.A. Pennebaker caught David Bowie at his most theatrical at this show highlighted by a blistering ”Suffragette City” and the poetic retirement of Bowie’s planet-hopping Ziggy Stardust persona.
Gimme Shelter (1970)
The fly-on-the-wall style of directors Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin captures Mick Jagger’s raw sexuality — and the violence from the notorious Altamont festival (which ended with the stabbing death of a fan by a Hells Angel) with a disturbing clarity.