The best concert films and videos to stream online

Concerts won't happen for a long time, but you can fill the void with these performances by Beyoncé, Radiohead, Lizzo, Kamasi Washington and more

All live music is cancelled for the foreseeable future. There are rumblings that big concerts won’t return until 2021. For people like me, who find their community amongst crowds at bars and venues, that’s not an easy reality to accept. As with so many things during this COVID-19 pandemic, I’m finding solace on my screens. If I can’t be at a concert, I can at least watch a concert online.

So I’ve scoured all the big streaming services – Netflix, Crave, Amazon Prime Video Canada and YouTube – and picked a selection of some of my favourites. These should help you fill the live-music void in your life.

Beyoncé: Homecoming

If not for coronavirus, we’d be in the midst of Coachella’s second weekend right now. Instead, it’s been rescheduled to October (and that might still be optimistic). It’s a perfect time to relive the performance that some have called the best concert of the last decade: Beyoncé’s 2018 headlining set was a tribute to historically Black colleges and Black feminism, filling the stage with majorette dancers, marching bands, nonstop choreography and a cameo from Destiny’s Child. Co-directed by the Queen Bey herself, this concert film is nourishing enough to feed all your #couchella hunger this year. 

Streaming on Netflix.

Radiohead: Live From A Tent In Dublin

There’s no shortage of Radiohead live footage online, especially now that they’ve launched the Radiohead Public Library, but they’re giving hardcore fans even more to chew on “now that you have no choice whether or not you fancy a quiet night in,” the band tweeted.

The English band is releasing a new full concert every Thursday evening until social distancing is over, or until their vault runs dry, whichever comes first. The first was this Ireland show from the year 2000, which was arguably when the band were at the height of their powers (and fans will argue). It was the Kid A era, when they were rewriting the rules of paranoid rock and electronic music crossover (including more than a few songs about isolation). They’re still a hell of a live band, but this is when they were really a hell of a live band. 

Stream all of Radiohead’s weekly concerts, including their just-released 2016 show at Lollapalooza Berlin, via their YouTube page

The Tragically Hip: Long Time Running

This one is cheating a little because it’s not a straight-up concert film, but it’s filled with powerful and often deeply sad live footage. It’s a documentary about the Hip’s final tour before Gord Downie died, which culminates in what felt like the last big collective live music moment we experienced as a country: the band’s cathartic performance of Grace, Too at their final hometown show in Kingston, Ontario. A third of Canada watched that concert live from home, and now you can again. 

Streaming on Crave.

The Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense

One of the best concert films of all time, if not THE best, this 1984 tour de force by the legendary art-rock band, captured by Jonathan Demme, changed the way we think about the staging of a rock show and music on screens in general. There’s no narrative per se, but the way it goes from David Byrne alone on stage to the full glory of the band at its full powers is captivating and also weirdly suspenseful. Plus: big suit. If you haven’t seen it, remedy that ASAP. For a bonus, check out Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph’s Documentary Now! Stop Making Sense takeoff Final Transmission free on CBC Gem

Streaming on Amazon Prime.

Kamasi Washington: Live At The Apollo Theatre

This just-released concert film finds one of the most exciting voices in jazz right now paying tribute to Harlem’s Apollo Theater and its rich cultural history. The tenor saxophonist plays with a 10-piece band, and even that barely contains the grandness of his music and vision. 

Streaming on Amazon Prime.

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story

This one is somewhere between concert film and docudrama – Dylan and director Martin Scorsese stretch the truth in places and completely make stuff up in others. But the concert footage, all taken from Dylan’s titular 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, is very real and very, very good. It’s one of Bobby D’s most celebrated tours, with special guests like Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (but not a young Sharon Stone, despite what she says in the movie) joining him along the way. Dressed in whiteface makeup, Dylan is at his most intense and fiery, reinventing his songs as glammy rave-ups. The gem of the film is an off-the-cuff performance of Coyote by Joni Mitchell with Dylan and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn jamming along on guitar, all of which happens at Gordon Lightfoot’s house in Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood. It’s like a better version of all the living room shows you’ve been watching for the past few weeks.  

Streaming on Netflix.

Neil Young: Home Town

Neil Young probably holds some sort of record for most concert films, and he’s been releasing Fireside Sessions from his ranch during this pandemic. If you want something else just as personal but with a few more people, try this intimate hometown solo show from a few years ago. And no, it’s not Toronto. It’s the small Ontario town of Omemee, where he felt comfortable enough to wander the stage (decorated like a living room), tell a few rambling stories and play a Canadiana-style set full of dusty old rarities. It’s full Uncle Neil, and that’s very comforting. Bonus: Crave also has The Last Waltz, Scorsese’s classic 1978 concert featuring The Band and friends, including Dylan and Young (as legend goes, with a digitally removed globule of cocaine on his nose). 

Streaming on Crave.

Lizzo: Tiny Desk Concert

NPR’s in-office performance series has become somewhat of an institution and there are so many amazing 20-to-30-minute mini-concerts that it almost doesn’t feel fair to single one out. I’ve been streaming them from Chromecast to my TV and using them as my work soundtrack the last few weeks and I’m partial to the Tyler, The Creator one and this one from the whole Wu-Tang Clan, while the Mac Miller one has become his Nirvana Unplugged-style living epitaph. There’s something undeniable about this Lizzo “tiny-ass desk” concert, oozing confidence, charisma and crowd control. 

Watch on YouTube.

PUP: First Play Live

And now for the Cancon. Our national broadcaster, CBC, is brimming with full concerts by Canadian musicians. I’ll give the edge to this galvanizing Toronto first play performance of songs from PUP’s 2019 album Morbid Stuff. It’s exactly what I miss about concerts, that sweaty all-in-this-together (in person) fist-bumping spirit that pop-punk does so well. PUP are serious road warriors and they’ve got undeniable chemistry with their young fans, many of whom lined up outside the Garrison for hours for this free, limited-entry, early evening show. And I know because I was there, getting so swept up that I was totally disoriented leaving the venue and seeing that it was still light out. Bonus: here’s an at-home song by lead singer Stefan Babcock recorded from self-isolation.

Streaming on YouTube.

Andy Shauf: Live At Massey Hall

The Live At Massey Hall series is another treasure trove of Canadian musicians playing full concerts. There’s a lot there to dig into (all of it in black and white), but I’ll spotlight this one from Toronto-based troubadour Andy Shauf. He was set to tour behind his new album Neon Skyline, which was one of the shows we were looking forward to this concert season, but we’ll settle for this 2017 concert for his last album, The Party, in which he gave his intricately arranged shy wallflower songs their fullest live treatment with a 10-piece band full of horns and strings. 

Streaming on YouTube.


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