Earlier this year when the growing seriousness surrounding COVID-19 forced us inside for the foreseeable future and rendered the live music industry practically non-existent, we combed through the seemingly endless catalog of content currently available on major video streaming platforms to highlight our 25 favorite concert films and music documentaries to watch while under quarantine.
In three months since, the home entertainment industry, like much of the world, has experienced a new shift with the highly anticipated arrival of HBO Max in May. With HBO Max, HBO—already one of the biggest names in premium broadcast content—showcases its vast collection of intellectual property which until recently belonged to its sister companies under AT&T‘s WarnerMedia umbrella. HBO Max’s expansive catalog as part of AT&T’s empire now offers fans the option to browse and pick from even more film and television titles, from Rick and Morty to Friends, and much to the delight of this writer, music fans have not been left out.
Clicking the “Music” category option inside HBO Max’s surprisingly user-friendly interface unveils dozens and dozens of concert films, documentaries, and features. The plethora of new content is a warm welcome to any music fan out there who has already exhausted the options on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Even HBO Go and the now-defunct HBO Now, which both had excellent options to pick from in the documentary department, ultimately lacked in quality concert films.
With quarantine fatigue quickly turning into exhaustion for many as spring begrudgingly limps its way into summer, here are some of the best streaming options for music fans on HBO Max.
1. Gimme Shelter
The well-edited 1970 documentary film from Albert and David Maysles looks back at the early years of The Rolling Stones with a mix of archival footage from their 1969 tour of America leading up to the disaster that was Altamont. Much of the film sees singer Mick Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts in the editing room watching much of the footage that the audience is seeing, comes to an engaging climax with wonderful stage-level footage Altamont, and doesn’t shy away from the violent events which launched the California concert into rock infamy during the band’s chaotic performance. Grateful Dead fans will recognize a familiar face throughout the film in The Rolling Stones’ then-tour manager Sam Cutler, who went on to work with the Dead following Altamont.
Gimme Shelter [Original Trailer]
[Video: HD Retro Trailers]
Music fans who were alive and old enough to have seen Selena when it was released in March 1997 will be quick to recall the biopic as an instant classic. The film chronicles the tragically short life and career of late Tejano/American pop crossover singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, and helped launch Jennifer Lopez into Hollywood superstardom upon its release 23 years ago. Selena always makes for an enjoyable, nostalgic movie night experience, but viewers should note that “Bidi Bidi Bom Bomout” will, indeed, get stuck in your head.
Selena [Official Trailer]
[Video: Movieclips Classic Trailers]
The HBO original series Treme arrived in April 2010 from the creators of The Wire and ran for four seasons. The drama series focuses on the rebuilding of New Orleans in the years following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Named after one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and an important epicenter of African American and Creole cultures, Treme will certainly help scratch the that serious itch the music community feels as of late with the cancellation of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival this year due to coronavirus.
Treme [Series Intro]
4. A Tiny Audience
A Tiny Audience is a brand-new performance series which focuses on chart-topping Latin musicians like Juanes and Sebastián Yatra and is filmed in an intimate studio setting in front of an audience. Latin music is infiltrating American culture from all directions these days. From the breakthrough success of artists like Chicano Batman, Rosalía, Luis Fonsi, and Camila Cabello in recent years to this year’s Super Bowl halftime performance, it has become impossible to ignore the emergence of Latin music in today’s youth culture. A Tiny Audience will do a wonderful job of introducing fans into the colorful, vibrant genre.
A Tiny Audience [Season 1 Trailer]
5. Western Stars
Bruce Springsteen performs songs from his 2019 studio album, Western Stars, backed by a full orchestra in this thematic new concert film. Set inside Springsteen’s 100-year-old barn at his New Jersey home, one of America’s most revered rock songwriters explores themes of love, loss, and time with a fresh take on the concert film genre that only “The Boss” could pull off.
Western Stars [Official Trailer]
[Video: Warner Bros. Pictures]
6. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
This documentary hears Linda Ronstadt narrate her life story alongside a plethora of archival footage ranging from personal photos and concert performances to her music videos from over the years. Co-directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film features guest interviews from Dolly Parton, Cameron Crowe, Jackson Browne, and Bonnie Raitt. The Sound of My Voice is based on Ronstadt’s memoirs and shines a light on her wildly successful career, from her childhood up through her retirement in 2011 due to progressive supranuclear palsy and beyond.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice [Official Trailer]
[Video: Greenwich Entertainment]
7. A Hard Day’s Night
The semi-biographical musical comedy that put a creative twist on the chaotic work schedule of The Beatles in their early, “mop-top” years is a classic must-watch for any rock fan. The 1964 film furthered the band’s global rise as teenage pop heartthrobs with its live performances and cheesy but fun storylines that depict the band as musical guests on a fictional television show in England. From a Patti Boyd cameo alongside her future ex-husband George Harrison to trying to keep on the whereabouts of Paul’s crazy grandfather, A Hard Day’s Night makes for an easy watch for your next black-and-white movie night.
The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night [Train Scene]
8. Tenacious D: The First Season
Fans can now relive all six original episodes from the first three seasons (1997, 1999, 2000) of the HBO rock comedy which launched the musical careers of Jack Black and Kyle Gass as “Tenacious D“. When the present paints a pretty bleak reality, it makes for a fun adventure to travel back to the late ’90s before Tenacious D were as well known as they are today and watch their nonsensical approach to worshiping rock music.
Tenacious D – “Cosmic Shame”
9. Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains The Same
Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same remains a cinematic masterpiece. It showcases the arena rock band at the height of their success and creative powers. Though never quite accepted by the mainstream critics, this film remains a fan-favorite, as Zeppelin’s overwhelming rock and roll charisma is captured with footage of the band’s mid-summer run at Madison Square Garden in July 1973 and edited together with a slightly dramatic, fictional storyline featuring unique cameos from each member.
Led Zeppelin – “The Ocean” – The Song Remains The Same
[Video: Led Zeppelin]
10. That Thing You Do!
Most music fans will be quick to remember 1996’s That Thing You Do! starring Tom Hanks as a smooth record executive, a young Liv Tyler, and that uber-catchy pop single from The Wonders—not to be confused with “The Oneders”. This fictional period film follows a jazz-inspired drummer his young rock band from Erie, PA as they embark across 1964 America in hopes of hitting the big-time with their surprise hit song before their 15 minutes of fame runs out, delivering plenty of funny, easily-quotable scenes throughout. It’s worth noting that the fictional band virtually reunited earlier this year as part of a COVID-19 benefit.
The Wonders – “That Thing You Do!”
11. Elvis Presley: The Searcher
HBO has really knocked it out of the park with some of their music documentaries in recent years, and this two-part 2018 docuseries on “The King” certainly delivers. The two-part, three-hour project explores the journey of Elvis beginning with his childhood through the final 1976 Jungle Room recording sessions. As the film’s producer and acclaimed journalist/Bruce Springsteen collaborator Jon Landau explains in the trailer, “The idea was really to concentrate on Elvis Presley the man in a full sense, the full man.”
Elvis Presley: The Searcher [Official Trailer]
[Video: TCB Productions]
12. Bohemian Rhapsody
Classic rock biopics have made a big return over the last few years, though few have been as successful as Bohemian Rhapsody, a.k.a. the highest-grossing music biopic of all time. The multiple Oscar-winning film chronicles the rise of Queen in the early 1970s and the band’s iconic frontman Freddie Mercury as played by actor Rami Malek. Starting at the band’s beginnings up through their famous performance at Live Aid 1985 as the narrative climax, Bohemian Rhapsody is an entertaining—though somewhat factually problematic—look at one of the biggest bands in history.
Bohemian Rhapsody [Official Trailer]
[Video: 20th Century Studios]
13. Rock n Roll High School
This fictional teen comedy centered around The Ramones is always a good choice for a throwback summertime movie night. The film stars all four original members of the punk band and acts as an entertaining predecessor to future rock-inspired high school films like Detroit Rock City and Dazed and Confused.
Rock N Roll High School [Official Trailer]
14. Don’t Look Back
This 1967 documentary film from D. A. Pennebaker takes fans back to 1965 with a young Bob Dylan‘s concert tour across England. The film opens with the famous folk-rock singer-songwriter’s well-known, cue cards-inspired video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and features a mix of cameos from notable ’60s figures including Joan Baez, Donovan, Alan Price, Marianne Faithfull, John Mayall, Ginger Baker, and Allen Ginsberg. From pre-concert philosophical jousting with future Chrysalis Records co-founder Terry Ellis to hotel duets between Dylan and Baez, this film is a classic look back at the first few years of Bob Dylan’s illustrious career.
Don’t Look Back [Official Trailer]
15. Buena Vista Social Club
This 1999 film from director Wim Wenders explores and celebrates the “Forgotten Generation” of Cuban musicians and singers including Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, and Compay Segundo. Comprised of new interviews and live performance footage, the film does a wonderful job of resurrecting the voices which were silenced during Castro’s decades of power over the Cuban peoples.
Buena Vista Social Club [Official Trailer]