These must-watch music docs feature captivating live performances, candid artist portraits, and behind-the-scenes drama spanning generations and genres.
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A great music documentary is about more than seeing a band or artist you like in concert. Of course, while some of the best music docs ever made are concert films, the cinematic fusion of art, sound, and performance, at its best, manages to capture the essence and personalities of a musical act, and a moment (or movement). 

Here are our picks for the best music documentaries of all time, and where to see them. 

Homecoming: A Film By Beyonce
Credit: Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment

Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (2019)

If this film about Beyoncé headlining 2018 Coachella were just a concert film, it would go down as one of the most astounding, triumphant musical performances ever. Homecoming, expertly pieced together from the singer's two-night stint headlining the festival (the only Black woman to have done so) also serves as testament to the ambition and costs of spectacle. There's a reason why that year's festival became known as "Beychella."

Directed by Beyoncé herself, the film kicks off with an explosive entrance, with Beyoncé revealing the enormous backup band she'd been rehearsing with for eight grueling months — a 100-strong mix of marching band performers, steppers, and dancers, all culled from the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) whose long musical and cultural traditions the singer celebrates throughout. Flashbacks to that rehearsal process (complete with an increasingly ominous countdown to Coachella) see even Beyoncé wondering if she can pull off her grand plans in the wake of the difficult, C-section birth of twins that saw her canceling the year before. What she and her massive team pull off is one of the most rousing (and, to the traditionally white Coachella crowd, undoubtedly eye-opening) tributes to Black music — and the indefatigable Beyoncé — anyone could have imagined. 

Homecoming is available on Netflix. 

THE LAST WALTZ, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young
Credit: Everett Collection

The Last Waltz (1978)

Rob Reiner may have patterned his squarely earnest documentary director Marty Di Bergi in 1984's mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap partly on director Martin Scorsese's onscreen presence in The Last Waltz, but that doesn't take away from how expertly Scorsese captures the last performance from the legendary country-rockers The Band. Scorsese's interviewing style, indeed, tends toward the verbose and worshipful, but that's all forgotten when the director turns all his skills toward documenting what was an all-star tribute show for a band of consummate energy and infectious drive. 

Pulling together a concert with everyone from Bob Dylan, to Dr. John, to Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond (yes, really), Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Ringo Starr, Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters, and The Staple Singers (among others), was a monumental achievement. (And a predictably chaotic one, as a reluctant Dylan had to be talked out of walking at the last minute, endangering the entire project, while The Band's fractious nature saw them later diluting the film's impact by repeatedly reuniting.) But what emerges is a prodigal bounty of disparate but complementary sounds and styles, all caught by Scorsese's cameras with elegance and verve. 

Of course, if you want to abandon all semblance of auteurist creative control, look no further than: Awesome; I F---in' Shot That. A typically bold exercise in punk-ethos rockumentary filmmaking from punk-rap pioneers The Beastie Boys, this 2006 film concert film was pieced together after the fact by band member/director Adam Yauch/MCA from raw and unpredictable footage gleaned from 50 hi-def cameras handed out to fans at the band's Madison Square Garden concert. The result is as anarchic as it is bracing. 

The Last Waltz is available to stream on Tubi and Pluto TV. Awesome; I F---in' Shot That is currently only available on DVD

SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS, James Murphy
Credit: Everett Collection

Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)

If The Last Waltz is a funeral for a band, then this later final concert from indie dance-rockers LCD Soundsystem is a party. Selling out Madison Square Garden for one last show before being disbanded at the peak of their artistic and commercial success by founder James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem goes out of the music world the way Murphy brought them in — witty, weird, and endlessly danceable. 

Interspersing clips of the perpetually rumpled Murphy both before the big show and the morning and days after, the film from directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace captures the frontman's mixed feelings with palpable ambivalence. Interviewed prior to the farewell by writer Chuck Klosterman, Murphy is shown trying to convince everyone, himself included, that walking away in favor of some sort of normal life is the right thing to do. (Murphy wound up reforming LCD Soundsystem in 2016, partly at the urging of fan David Bowie.) The show itself is a riotously energetic showcase for LCD's mix of dance, art rock, and punk, with Murphy, as ever, orchestrating a dazzlingly eclectic goodbye to a rapturous crowd. 

For a movie about a band that was almost written off but refused to die, check out I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is considered a masterpiece these days, but this film by Sam Jones shows how Wilco's groundbreaking fourth album became a battleground for the band and their studio when the finished record was outright rejected, and they were dropped by label Reprise. 

Shut Up and Play the Hits can be streamed on Kanopy, Tubi, and Pluto TV, while I Am Trying To Break Your Heart can only be found on DVD

The Decline Of Western Civilization - 1981
Credit: Everett Collection

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

Years before Penelope Spheeris became the director of comedy classics like Wayne's World, her trio of documentaries about the Los Angeles punk and metal scenes were as influential as they were infamous. In this, the first of her three similarly titled portraits of the fringes of the L.A. music scenes, she chronicles the daily life of punk bands like The Germs, X, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and Fear, among others. 

As Spheeris' connection to the raw and troubled denizens of that scene progressed, she eventually made 1984's fictionalized Suburbia, pulling in actual musicians and assorted punks to craft her own interpretation of their world. But The Decline of Western Civilization is the real deal, as Spheeris, in interviews with musicians and fans, attempts to pull out of her subjects their attraction to the unfiltered, hostile, sometimes violent world of the punk subculture. We see John Doe and Exene Cervenka of X giving each other home tattoos, The Germs' Darby Crash (who died by suicide at 22 the year before the film was released) slurring through a set while audience members scrawl permanent marker on his naked torso, and Lee Ving of Fear berating a crowd into spitting, punch-throwing fury with a string of sexism and homophobia. Yet the unseen Spheeris is clearly on the young musicians' side, probing into broken home lives, mental issues, poverty, and marginalization on the brink of Ronald Reagan's America with an anthropological eye toward understanding, and even admiration. 

If you're drawn to the outskirts, we suggest The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005). An outsider artist from the jump, West Virginia-raised Johnston earned early notoriety through his low-fi hustle in handing out taped demos. Finding influential admirers, including Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Johnston found his innate psychological issues exacerbated by his limited fame, eventually passing away in 2019, with his musical legacy feelingly portrayed in Jeff Feuerzig's film. 

The Decline of Western Civilization can be streamed everywhere from Kanopy, Plex, NightFlight Plus, the Roku Channel, and elsewhere. The Devil and Daniel Johnston can be streamed on Tubi. 

Heavy Metal Parking Lot
Credit: Heavy Metal Parking Lot

Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986)

Can 16 minutes capture the soul of an entire generation? Perhaps only if you're filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, and you have the bright idea to take your equipment to a mid-sized Maryland concert venue in the hours leading up to a 1986 Judas Priest concert. Toiling at the low rungs of the video production industry at the time, the filmmakers, after lying that they were filming the pre-show parking lot hangout for MTV, immortalized a particular place and time in the history of music fandom in all its mullet-headed, half-shirted, Bud-swilling glory. And in doing so, Krulik and Heyn secured a time capsule of 1980s teenage rebellion, the "Just say no" Reagan era drowned out in a gleeful barrage of vulgarity and underage misbehavior. 

Long a cult hit on bands' tour buses (Nirvana was one loyal proponent), Heavy Metal Parking Lot functions as real-world sequel to 1984's This Is Spinal Tap, as Priest's young and loaded fans exuberantly (but solemnly) assert their favorite band's primacy above all others. And while it's tempting to pop in Heavy Metal Parking Lot for a quick hit of gawking fun at the expense of the kids' clothes, hair, and all-purpose stoned certitude, the film instead lives on as an endearingly nostalgic glimpse into a moment in time. In the years since Parking Lot went on to become an underground staple, many of the indelible characters captured on that fateful May day (now adults with teenagers themselves) appear to hold few regrets. After all, every generation of music fans finds a like-minded peer group whose youthful, fleeting, inarticulate passion for one particular band provides a soft, stoned landing place in a hard world.  

And if you want to delve into a world where these kids' heavy metal dreams never really died, check out Anvil! The Story of Anvil. In 2008, filmmaker Sacha Gervasi tracked down the two-man nucleus of never-quite successful Canadian headbangers Anvil. Still holding fast to hopes of metal stardom in their underemployed 50s, Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner are lured onto a disastrously sketchy European tour whose constant catastrophes remind viewers of Rob Reiner's Spinal Tap. It's a boisterous, empathetic, and ultimately almost uplifting tale of heavy metal optimism through the years. 

Heavy Metal Parking Lot is available to stream on Tubi, NightFlight Plus, Fandor, and VRV. Anvil! can be found on DVD, or bought on Amazon or the Microsoft Store. 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Credit: Dora Handel/Corbis/courtesy of HBO

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Taking its title from an audio recording made by a pre-fame Kurt Cobain, Brett Morgen's spellbindingly intimate portrait of the late Nirvana singer takes a similar tack in tackling Cobain's short life. Executive produced by Cobain and Courtney Love's daughter Frances, and with Morgen being given unprecedented access to everything from Cobain's journals to a lifetime of home movies, the film juxtaposes lives performances and snippets of news stories and interviews with animated sequences, clips of old movies and TV, and judiciously-chosen talking head interviews with Cobain's family and friends. 

What results is less a standard Behind the Music-style, fill-in-the-blanks story of a talented musician's rise and inevitable fall. Instead, Montage of Heck functions as an impressionistic — yet comprehensive and readable — sketch of Kurt Cobain, an unhappy and disaffected teen-turned-world's most influential musical voice. As Morgen's deftly edited and animated portrait jolts along toward the singer's self-inflicted death at the age of 27 through rare live performance footage and layered but unpretentious editing, the film does remarkable work in taking us as deep inside the fragile Cobain's genius, and madness, as anyone ever has. 

And since we're recommending fine documentaries about troubled and influential rock stars who died from their addictions at the age of 27, Asif Kapadia's Amy, about the life and death of Amy Winehouse, makes for a similarly touching and tragic double feature. More conventional in structure than Montage of Heck, the 2015 film yet strikes right to the heart of how the talent and pain inspiring great music can also contribute to seemingly inevitable slow-motion disaster. 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is streaming on HBO Max, while Amy can be streamed on Fubo, Showtime, Kanopy, DirectTV, and Spectrum on Demand. 

Meeting People Is Easy- Radiohead documentary
Credit: Parlophone

Meeting People Is Easy (1998)

There's nothing duller than watching a successful band complain about the trappings of fame. And yet, Grant Gee's documentary about the brain-muddying slog that was Radiohead's worldwide press gauntlet after the monster success of OK Computer makes the most convincing case yet that being a rock star isn't all it's cracked up to be. Like Radiohead's music, the ironically titled Meeting People Is Easy takes some patience to appreciate the ambition. 

Capturing Thom Yorke and company in a muddy, jaggedly-edited blur of greens and low-res black-and-white (sometimes via hidden camera), Gee's film would be more of the screw-you to music journalists it undeniably is if we didn't see just how bad most music writers are at their jobs. The same questions, asked in dozens of accents, in dingy hotel rooms and DJ booths, are chopped and distorted into an incessant, irritating buzz. (Gee inserts actual buzzing and beeping sounds to further bring us into the band's increasingly frazzled mind frame.) Concert footage from Radiohead's endurance-sapping tour is fleeting and unsatisfying, swept away in another mandatory march of promo appearances and lonely plane rides. At one point we see chat show hosts slagging off the band's "miserable" music while footage of Yorke literally drowning for his art in the "No Surprises" video plays in the background, about as apt a metaphor for the disconnect between musician and critic as it gets. 

For more about the miseries of rock fame, check out Dig! (2004). Paralleling the at-first evenly matched rise of Northwest bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, filmmaker Ondi Timoner mercilessly chronicles how the contrasting abilities of the bands' frontmen to handle success send each in very different directions. 

Meeting People Is Easy is only available on DVD, while Dig! can be rented on Amazon Prime Video. 

Posthumous Oscars
Credit: Radius / TWC

20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

An experience in non-stop goosebumps of recognition and appreciation, this documentary from Morgan Neville profiles some of the most important women in music history. That you've never heard of most of them is depicted as a mix of many factors. Racism, sexism, bad timing, worse luck — all contributed to the stalled careers of indispensable (mostly Black) women in the music industry whose contributions you know in your soul, even if they've never gotten their proper credit. 

Women like Merry Clayton, once among Ray Charles' Rayettes, who, while four months pregnant, was summoned by a wee hours phone call to the 1969 studio where the Rolling Stones were recording "Gimme Shelter." Her soaring performance in the classic song is invaluable. The unmentioned fact that she lost her baby soon after is an unspoken metaphor for the sacrifices she and her equally unsung contemporaries like Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear, and the late, great Darlene Love relate. In a belated turn in the spotlight, these former backup singers all reunite for a movie-capping rendition of "Lean On Me," while (mostly male, white) superstars like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, and Sting all are seen throughout praising their former collaborators' contributions, while never quite seeming to grasp the forces arrayed against them. 

On that latter theme, Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970), apart from providing a last chance to catch Elvis Presley before he started to look silly doing karate moves in his white jumpsuit, features illuminating glimpses of his backup singers, The Sweet Inspirations. Then made up of three Black women (Myrna Smith, Estell Brown, and Sylvia Shemmell), this entertaining concert film chronicling Elvis' 1970 Las Vegas residency sees the Inspirations ably sweetening the King's sound, all while his good old boy Memphis Mafia competes for their boss' attention. 

20 Feet From Stardom is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video. Elvis: That's The Way It Is is available on HBO Max.

THE BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART
Credit: Everett Collection

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? (2020)

Yes, the Bee Gees. Frank Marshall's career-spanning documentary about the Australian (via Manchester) superstar brothers act makes a compelling case for the Bee Gees as ultimate rock survivors. Sadly, by the time of filming, only Barry Gibb is left, with his twin siblings Maurice and Robin, and youngest brother (and significant solo success in his own right) Andy all having died. But Marshall's film examines how the Brothers Gibb remained steadfastly true to a childhood dream of all-for-one musical stardom with an eye toward the band's reappraisal, and rehabilitation. 

From their folk-y early successes to Beatles-era pop fame, right through to the unimaginable worldwide phenomenon that was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the brothers are depicted as not so much chasing trends as setting them, all in service of simply staying together and making music. The film delves eloquently into the not-so-subtly racist and homophobic post-Fever, anti-disco backlash that eventually derailed their top-40 dominance (the brothers went on to pen smash hits for everyone from Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, and Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers), juxtaposing the riotous Chicago "disco demolition night" with the brothers' bewilderment at their latest and most fruitful musical evolution becoming the target of such virulent hatred. Through it all, the brothers come off feelingly as the dedicated craftsmen and innovators they actually were. 

In contrast, nobody needs to be sold on the brilliance or the impact of The Velvet Underground (2021). Still, it took acclaimed and controversial filmmaker Todd Haynes (I'm Not There, Velvet Goldmine) to truly tackle the complex history and individuals that made up the seminal New York avant-garde rockers. Interviews with living members Mo Tucker and John Cale and archival ones from Lou Reed and Sterling Campbell are collaged with Haynes' idiosyncratic illustration of the Velvet's singular time and place. 

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is available on HBO Max, while The Velvet Underground is available on Apple TV+. 

Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)

Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) (2003)

At one point in this career-spanning film documenting the still-vital career of college radio pioneers and alt rock eccentrics They Might Be Giants, writer and fan Sarah Vowell tries to explain how wit and absurdity and tragedy all meet in the band's music. Just one of an impressively diverse array of talking heads assembled to extol the singular virtues of lifelong musical partners John Linnell and John Flansburgh, Vowell unpacks a line as contradictory as "everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful" (from TMBG's impossibly catchy "Don't Let's Start"). Intermittently, comic actors and enthusiasts like Andy Richter and Michael McKean recite lyrics from "I Should Be Allowed To Think" and "The End of the Tour," their spoken-word renditions stripping bare the Johns' deceptively complex writing. 

Equal parts prankish and heartfelt, both the band and the film (directed by AJ Schnack) make the case that the unassuming Flansburgh and Linnell are one of the most endlessly inventive songwriting duos alive. Like the record executive depicted as getting caught up in the irresistible, hook-filled surface of the band's heart-wrenching paean to dying love, "They'll Need a Crane," the film posits that the duo's long history of couching sly profundity in alt-rock accessibility is a masterful rock smuggling act, with the Johns themselves asserting throughout that that's just how they see the world. 

Continuing in appreciation of bands walking their own unique path, check out Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (by The Devil and Daniel Johnston's Jeff Feuerzeig). Brothers Jad and David Fair make determinedly low-fi alt-rock, their songs about monsters and old movies played on untuned guitars and a tiny drum set. Accumulating high-profile fans from Nirvana to illusionist Penn Jillette (who regales the filmmaker with a fascinating story about essentially stealing back the band's master tapes from an unscrupulous producer), Half Japanese yet remains on the brothers' own, inimitable wavelength. 

Gigantic and Half Japanese are only available on DVD

DON'T LOOK BACK, Bob Dylan, 1967
Credit: Everett Collection

Don't Look Back (1967)

D.A. Pennebaker didn't necessarily invent the rockumentary, but this seminal chronicle of Bob Dylan's 1965 British tour became the template for the genre. Pennebaker shot hand-held on 16mm, recorded direct sound, and had fly-on-the-wall access to Dylan and his entourage as they navigated the singer's growing fame. The young Dylan comes off as brilliant, aloof, and more than a little obnoxious, both playing the role of anti-corporate music prankster and believing his own press about being the smartest guy in any room. (His back and forth with an unfortunate interviewer from Time is a blueprint for every disastrous interaction between self-important artist and reporter asking for the meaning behind the music.)

As fascinating as it is to ponder just how much of an act Dylan's putting on, Don't Look Back also contains ample evidence that Bob Dylan's music is, indeed, worthy of the hype. Whether cruelly and expertly one-upping fellow singer Donovan in a hotel room jam session or jousting with the incessant parade of largely uncomprehending journalists desperate to encapsulate the young singer's persona according to their own preconceived notions, Pennebaker's everpresent camera catches it all, creating an indelible record of an iconic performer creating his image right before our eyes. 

After that, why not try The Nomi Song by director Andrew Horn. Born in Germany as Klaus Sperber, underground music and fashion icon Klaus Nomi reinvented himself as one of the most striking and tragic figures of the 1980s New York art scene. Possessed of an indescribable, operatic falsetto and an otherworldly stage presence, Nomi, who became one of the first celebrity victims of the AIDS epidemic when he died in 1983, is presented as a true and committed artist whose avant garde performances inspired others as disparate as David Bowie and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Don't Look Back can be streamed on HBO Max. The Nomi Song is only available on DVD. 

GIMME SHELTER, Mick Jagger, 1970
Credit: Everett Collection

Gimme Shelter (1970)

Sometimes it's far less about the music than when music and movement combine to reveal a moment. The Rolling Stones, who played a free concert at California's Altamont Speedway in December 1969, were at their self-styled demonic height, their performance of "Sympathy for the Devil" a prelude to the bloody tragedy that marked the symbolic end of the peace and love '60s. With documentary impresarios Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin tasked by the Stones with chronicling their 1969 U.S. tour, the film's cameras (including one held by a young George Lucas) wound up capturing the brutal stabbing death of 18-year-old fan Meredith Hunter by biker gang the Hell's Angel's, who'd been disastrously signed on by the Stones as concert security. 

Conceived by the Stones as a sort-of anti-Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh's film of the famous New York rock festival also came out in 1970), Altamont indeed signaled the death-knell of the fading dreams of a decade of rock 'n' roll as cultural transformation. Hunter's death (included in harrowing glimpses in the film), and the escalating violence of the naively chosen Angels (Jefferson Airplane's Martin Balin is knocked out by a biker onstage at one point), are watched in the film by the Stones' Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts with a dawning horror, their usual bravado draining in the face of the raw footage. There's plenty of evidence of the Stones at their peak, but knowing how it all turned out, their raucous songs serve to score Gimme Shelter like it's a horror movie.

For a less murderous but similarly disillusioning portrait of a rock band's travails, try 2004's Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Acclaimed directors Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills) were granted access to the tumultuous period eventually leading to the band's album, St. Anger. Amidst all the infighting, departures, and new members, the film is an intimate and illuminating examination of the private toll of a very public life. 

Gimme Shelter is available on HBO Max. Some Kind of Monster is available on Netflix. 

Summer of Soul
Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Summer of Soul (…Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

If this Oscar-winning documentary by the Roots co-leader and music historian Amir "Questlove" Thompson were only about the saga to unearth and present the inconceivably almost-lost footage from 1969's Harlem Cultural Festival, it would be a major milestone in both music and filmmaking. Taking place concurrently with Woodstock, the Harlem Cultural Festival was a series of six free Sunday concerts that set out to be a positive and revitalizing force in that community, while attracting such a massively influential and thrilling slate of performers that the subsequent erasure and near complete loss of the 40 hours of footage from it remains one of the most illuminating near-misses in cultural erasure. 

Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, the Staple Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, the Fifth Dimension, Nina Simone, and other notables all performed to rapturous crowds, but the videotaped footage rotted away in obscurity (apart from a couple of one-hour 1969 network specials) for 50 years, until Questlove spearheaded a restoration. Coupling the irreplaceable performances with searching interviews and questions about just how this "Black Woodstock" was almost completely wiped from history, Thompson's film remains a heroic act of music reclamation as well as a precious time capsule. 

If you're intrigued by the prospect of unsung documentaries about legendary Black performers, try Amazing Grace (2018). Similarly, this 1972 record of Aretha Franklin's heaven and earth-shaking gospel performance at Watts' New Temple Missionary Baptist Church was nearly lost to time, all thanks to an unfortunate mistake from a future Oscar winner Sydney Pollack. Tasked with filming the Queen of Soul's stint in the sweltering L.A. church, the director neglected to properly mark for sound Franklin's soaring performance. Luckily, a meticulous and painstaking editing job brought Franklin's lost masterpiece of a set back to us. 

Summer of Soul and Amazing Grace are both available on Hulu. 

SIGN 'O' THE TIMES, Prince (right), 1987,
Credit: Everett Collection

Sign O' the Times (1987)

Sometimes it really is all about the performance. The late, great Prince (and how it still hurts to write that) directed himself and his sprawling band (including an on-fire Sheila E on drums) in this concert film from Prince's tour promoting his album of the same name. Actually, scratch that, as perfectionist Prince relocated to his Paisley Park Studios to produce an approximation of his live show more up to the audio and visual standards he had in mind. 

The resulting show is, well, Prince. There are some wraparound vignettes allowing the Purple One to express some of the often contradictory and moralistic sentiments laid out in his title track, but it's onstage that Prince shone, and Sign O' the Times captures his inimitable charisma and musicianship at its apex. Apart from a snatch of "Little Red Corvette," Prince eschews any Purple Rain material, which would be more of a bother if what we get isn't Prince at his most engaged and virtuosic. His unequaled stage presence and unmatched guitar skills are amped up to match his theatrical conceptions for this 90-minute showcase. 

If you're craving another inimitable performer indulging his artistic impulses in a stylized stage show of his own design, Tom Waits' Big Time is for you. Pulling typically eclectic songs from his albums Swordfishtrombones, Frank's Wild Years and Rain Dogs, Waits howls and growls according to his own unpredictable showman's instincts, making this a must-see for Waits fans, and a complete puzzle to others. 

Sign O' the Times is streaming on The Criterion Channel, while Big Time is available on Amazon Prime Video. 

STOP MAKING SENSE, David Byrne
Credit: Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense (1984)

There's no point in being tricky with the top spot: Stop Making Sense is the best musical documentary ever made because it's the purest celebration of music as performance. Avant-garde strangeness was built into art-rockers Talking Heads from the start, but Jonathan Demme's impeccable direction (combined with Lisa Day's editing) turns their ever-mercurial stage show into an exuberant yet controlled presentation on the themes of rock, dance, and seamless musical teamwork.

That last part is all the more impressive since the artistic schisms that would eventually split frontman David Byrne from bandmates Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison are nowhere in evidence. Byrne leaving the stage for Frantz and Weymouth's "Genius of Love" (as dance music side-project Tom Tom Club) comes across less as a concession than just another unexpected delight in the band's multifaceted set. But it's in the unparalleled "Burning Down the House" number that Stop Making Sense reaches its crescendo, a perpetual motion machine of sound and dance and irresistible good vibes. 

If you liked that, check out another Demme-directed concert film in the lower-key but equally mesmerizing Storefront Hitchcock (1998). If Talking Heads were odd, then British singer-songwriter Hitchcock is nigh inscrutable, with Demme capturing Hitchcock's performance inside an abandoned New York City storefront, curious passers-by intermittently peeking in to catch what the tuneful weirdness is all about. 

Stop Making Sense is available to stream on the Roku Channel, and you can rent Storefront Hitchcock on Apple TV Plus and Amazon Prime Video. 

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