I first head Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages on the Byrds’ 1967 masterpiece Younger Than Yesterday. Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker chiming across the recording. While the version cut by the Byrds in the winter of 1966 will always be my version of the song, I later discovered my favourite recording, live at Bob Dylan’s 30th-anniversary concert in 1992. McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Dylan, and George Harrison share vocal duties while Clapton provides an instrumental break too polished for my taste and Young delivers a blistering solo to bring the performance to a close, a solo I could listen to on a loop.
Young’s solo often makes me dig out Live Rust to stick on my record player. Instead I dug out Rust Never Sleeps for the full concert movie experience. Watching my namesake tear through my favourite songs I began thinking of other tour films that have made an impact. Setting aside documentaries for now, I considered only concert recordings. Films such as The Last Waltz, The Concert for Bangladesh, Nirvana at Reading. What tour films were in my top 5 though? Well, that’s why we’re here. We’ll begin with Mr. Young.
5. Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young
This 1979 movie, directed by Young himself under his pseudonym Bernard Shakey, is a concert film of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s 22nd October ’78 performance at Cow Palace, Daly City. One imagines a large quantity of cocaine was consumed in the production of the Rust Never Sleeps tour. Dubbed a concert fantasy the performance contains torchlight-eyed, Jawa-like robed figures as faux roadies. As set decoration, oversized microphones and flight cases are later removed to reveal giant amplifiers and Young himself. The performance is at times fragile and beautiful, and at others fierce, abrasive, and everything I love about Neil Young.
4. Nite Versions Live At Fabric (And 120 Other Places) – Soulwax
Soulwax has one of the oddest trajectories of all bands to emerge out of the mid-to-late 90s indie rock scene. Maybe eclipsed only by Radiohead themselves. After the runaway success of the Dewaele brothers’ 2manyDJs project, their band took a step towards the electronic. The band rerecorded and remixed songs from the 2004 album Any Minute Now to make 2005’s Nite Versions. The band took Nite Versions out on the road in a double-header with 2manyDJs. This was documented in the film Part of the Weekend Never Dies. Bundled with the special edition of that movie was this tour film which captures the pill-fuelled, sweat-drenched audience and the relentless, ferocious live performance of the band. If you stay in your seat watching this, you’ve no soul.
3. Burning – Mogwai
By the time Directors Vincent Moon and Nathanaël Le Scouarnec got their hands on Mogwai, the band’s fans had needed a good concert film for a while. Every live performance of the Scottish band I have attended, and there have been many, has been tantamount to a raw, emotional, spiritual experience. In Burning, a film companion to the 2010 live album, Special Moves, Mogwai are shot in high contrast black and white soundtracked by their enormous, intense, layered live sound. Nothing can substitute the experience of Mogwai live, but Burning makes a strong attempt. Switch the lights off, turn the volume up, and let the music wash over you.
2. Live in Praha – Radiohead
In 2009, Radiohead took to the road for a world tour promoting their revolutionary pay-what-you-want album, In Rainbows. When the tour reached the Výstavištĕ Holešovice Exhibition Hall Prague, Chechia on August 23rd, a group of fans had a plan. The shout went out on the internet for attendees to record the show in any way they could… small video cameras, camera phones, however they could get it on camera. As I understand it, when the band caught wind of it, they were supportive and provided the master recordings of the concert for the film. The result was an exceptional tour film recorded from all over the venue. This is Radiohead at the peak of their powers filmed with adoration by their fans. Incredible.
1. Road Movie – R.E.M.
Monster was my R.E.M. album. I knew of Out of Time and Automatic For the People, however, it was Monster that came along at a time in my life when it was exactly what I needed. I have written about the concert film Road Movie before and my experience of attending the world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival back in 1996. It is the only movie on this list I have enjoyed on a cinema screen, something I will never forget. The brash sound of Monster-era R.E.M. combined with the glam visuals and backdrops, all recorded at the Omni in Atlanta, Ga in 1995, are seared on my brain. They have influenced me in many different ways from that day to this.
Road Movie is what a tour film should be, a perfect encapsulation of the live experience of the band at that time. Incredible.