Stuck streaming: 20 great concert films and rock docs, from Beyoncé to Bruce and beyond
A look at the best music documentaries and live shows now streaming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime
Back before the quarantine, they were live events where musical artists would perform their music on stage for a crowd of fans. They were pretty fun, if memory serves.
Since there are no concerts happening anytime soon — most live shows have been canceled through June, and even July shows are looking iffy — the closest we can come to reliving the magic of live music is by watching concerts on TV.
Thankfully, there is a plethora of concert films and music documentaries on the major streaming services helping to fill our current musical void. In the latest edition of our quaranstream series, we've highlighted 20 of the best, from legends of yesteryear to icons of today. No, it's not quite the same as being there, but for now it will have to do.
Kick back, hit play, keep streaming and stay safe.
20 Concert Films and Music Documentaries Now Streaming
"Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé" (Netflix) — When Beyoncé took the stage at Coachella in 2018, it was immediately apparent — even to those far away from the desert, streaming at home on YouTube — that something special was happening. This electrifying concert film captures all that magic and ranks not only as Beyoncé's definitive performance, but Coachella's as well. (not rated, 137 mins, 2019)
"Springsteen on Broadway" (Netflix) — Bruce Springsteen is known for his knock-down, drag-out live performances, but his Broadway show was unlike any other he had ever staged: it was simply himself, a guitar, a microphone and a piano, and the story of a rock and roller from Jersey who was born to run. This doc perfectly captures the Tony-winning show, and sees Bruce at his most intimate and raw. (TV-MA, 153 mins, 2018)
"Amy" (Netflix) — The sad tragedy of Amy Winehouse is told in this loving but devastating documentary, a cautionary tale of artistry, fame, celebrity, substance abuse and questionable parenting. Winehouse was a knockout singer, gone too soon in 2011 at age 27, and director Asif Kapadia captures her rise, fall and sad ending. It's a heartbreaker on several levels, but you can't look away. (R, 128 mins, 2015)
"Miss Americana" (Netflix) — Want to see Taylor Swift perform live? Netflix has that, too; check out her "Reputation Stadium Tour" for her most recent concert extravaganza. But in this telling 2020 documentary, T. Swift peels back the curtain and lets viewers see inside her life, her songwriting, her struggles, her history with eating disorders and more, and helps viewers understand what it's like to be her. (TV-MA, 86 mins, 2020)
"Amazing Grace" (Hulu) — Aretha Franklin's "Amazing Grace" is the best-selling gospel album of all-time. But the film that documented the performance at its center was buried for decades before being unearthed in 2018. The footage is unfiltered — you can see cameras in the background of shots — but that only adds to the authenticity of this document, which shows Franklin at her most powerful. (G, 120 minutes, 2018)
"Stop Making Sense" (Amazon Prime) — One of the most celebrated concert films of all-time, director Jonathan Demme's live chronicle of the Talking Heads' live show is a wondrous celebration of live energy and unpredictability. To this day, David Byrne remains a visionary live performer, but "Stop Making Sense" captures him at his peak, big suit and all. (PG, 100 mins, 1984)
"Whitney" (Hulu) — Like "Amy," the story of Whitney Houston's life can feel like watching a funeral. While tragic, "Whitney" is also enlightening, a portrait of squandered talent that shows Houston did, indeed, almost have it all. Through interviews with family members and associates, we learn Houston was on a crash course with the inevitable. You know how it ends, but the high points are worth reliving. (R, 122 mins, 2018)
"Searching for Sugar Man" (Netflix) — Detroit folk singer Rodriguez lived his life in obscurity, having no idea he was a superstar halfway around the world. This Oscar-winning documentary tells a story that could only exist in a pre-internet world, back when we weren't so connected and international superstardom could fly underneath the radar. What a world. "Searching for Sugar Man" makes it worth a visit. (PG-13, 86 mins, 2012)
"Justin Timberlake & the Tennessee Kids" (Netflix) — "Stop Making Sense" director Jonathan Demme turns his eye on Justin Timberlake during his 20/20 Experience World Tour, giving the show a crispy, classy look as finely tailored as one of Timberlake's suits. Demme frames the film not in typical concert film fashion, focusing on close-ups that reveal the small moves that make up the big show. (not rated, 90 mins, 2016)
"Prince: Sign O' the Times" (Amazon Prime) — This concert film — written and directed by Prince, naturally — premiered in Detroit, a second home of sorts for the legendary rocker. The show finds him in his element on stage, performing songs from his 1987 album of the same name, and stands as a testament to both the Purple One's greatness and funkiness. (PG-13, 85 mins, 1987)
"Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream" (Amazon Prime) — And you thought "The Irishman" was long. Peter Bogdanovich eclipses Scorsese's epic by nearly an hour and goes deep on the legend of Tom Petty in this indispensable history of Petty and his bandmates, telling a great American story about one of the great American bands. A great way to eat up an entire afternoon in quarantine. (not rated, 259 mins)
"Travis Scott: Look Mom I Can Fly" (Netflix) — Houston hip-hop superstar Travis Scott loved roller coasters long before his life became one. This documentary looks at the "Sicko Mode" star's rise to the top of the hip-hop world, from his childhood home movies to his explosive performances in front of tens of thousands of fans, which are jarring to look at in an era of social distancing. (TV-MA, 84 mins, 2019)
"Gaga: Five Foot Two" (Netflix) — This engaging portrait of Gaga — which covers her from the recording and release of her 2016 album “Joanne” through her performance at the 2017 Super Bowl — catches her at home, in her studio, in meetings with execs and dodging paparazzi on the streets, i.e. the day-to-day dealings of one of the world’s most famous living artists. (TV-MA, 100 mins, 2017)
"20 Feet from Stardom" (Netflix) — Like "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," this doc celebrates the unheralded singers who listeners know but don't know they know, and gives them a chance to shine. Director Morgan Neville highlights backup singers such as Darlene Love, and investigates the circumstances that led to them not quite making it. It's eye-opening and inspiring. (PG-13, 91 mins, 2013)
"Shut Up and Play the Hits" (Hulu) — James Murphy thought it would be cool to retire, and you can see the look on his face the moment he realizes he made a mistake. LCD Soundsystem would of course come back, but this is a sterling look at the band's "final" concert, a hometown gig at Madison Square Garden that would have never happened if not for the pretense of retirement. Turns out it was worth it. (not rated, 110 mins, 2012)
"Hip-Hop Evolution" (Netflix) — From Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash to Kanye West and Lil Wayne, this documentary series tells the story of hip-hop from its roots to its present, with stops at every major scene and culture shift within the community along the way. Ideal for binge-watching from the beginning or just jumping in at any point, "Hip-Hop Evolution" is richly rewarding. (TV-MA, 4 seasons, 2016-2020)
"Echo in the Canyon" (Netflix) — The transcendent sounds of the Laurel Canyon music scene of the mid-1960s (the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield) are examined in "Echo in the Canyon," a telling tale of California dreamin' awash with good vibrations. Jakob Dylan interviews those who lived it, those around it and those who were influenced by it in this sunny doc. (PG-13, 82 mins, 2019)
"Fyre Fraud" (Hulu) — Coachella was supposed to be this weekend but isn't happening; this doc (Netflix has one, too) looks at a festival that didn't happen for entirely different reasons. The Fyre Festival was a 2017 festival that never was, a high-priced scam on influencer culture that shows how far some are willing to go to live the Coachella lifestyle. Nightmares are rarely this satisfying. (not rated, 96 mins, 2019)
"Kamasi Washington: Live at the Apollo Theater" (Amazon Prime) — This dynamic concert film finds the L.A. saxophonist leading his band through colossal jams such as "Truth" and "Fists of Fury" from Harlem's world famous Apollo Theater. Washington is clearly humbled by the venue but he doesn't let it overwhelm him. This is a concert to turn on and crank up. (not rated, 89 mins, 2020)
"Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami" (Hulu) — Don't expect big answers from Sophie Fiennes' doc on the one and only Grace Jones. The art-rock fashion icon remains impenetrable, but that's by design; there are perhaps no explanations for a force as mighty as Grace Jones. But we do see her in her element, and Fiennes includes several performances that are equal parts riveting and intimidating. (not rated, 115 mins, 2017)
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