Posted by: Adam Roper | April 29, 2009

Reflections on Music DVDs

Yesterday on a whim / on a walk home from a lame job interview, I decided to pick up Arcade Fire’s “Mirror Noir” and Leonard Cohen’s “Live in London”. I got to thinking about how awesome some music DVDs are, and how amazing it is when a film-maker is able to capture the experience of a concert in film.

So this morning I decided to compile a short run-down of some good music DVDs I’ve come across in recent years. To be fair I have tried to cover a broad spectrum of music DVDs, everything from classic rock to folk to metalcore-for-kids-who-wear-tight-pants.

A word on this, and many of my other entries: Please do not feel obligated to read these posts, or check out all the mentioned music, all at once. You can come back to this as a resource whenever you need music to listen to/watch. Think of this as a book with no paper, or a library without awkward people. Cheers.

1) Firstly, Leonard Cohen’s, Live in London–  Leonard Cohen is one of the most prolific songwriters of our time. Cohen took an unexplained hiatus from touring 15 years ago, using some of the time to do some profound soul-searching (Prior to recording “Ten New Songs” Cohen spent 5 years in a Zen monastery in California). Even after a long hiatus from performing, Cohen has still managed to produce a live-show filled with the depth and wisdom of a life-long artist. His voice is still deep and poetic, and his backing band comprises some of the best musicians I’ve seen in a while. I like it.

2) Mirror Noir, The Arcade Fire– This is Arcade Fire’s new DVD, filmed by Vincent Moon (the man behind a number of “La Blogotheque” videos, which I’ll discuss later). This DVD was filmed throughout the recording process of Neon Bible, and snapshots of the tours that followed. The mood and atmosphere of the film matches the feel of “Neon Bible”, and it gives some insight as to the reasoning Arcade Fire had in the recording process- why they used elaborate organ sounds, orchestras, and choirs. Definitely worth your time.

3) Rattle and Hum– This is u2’s travel documentary, recorded soon after The Joshua Tree. For this film u2 travels from Ireland to the US to discover the cultural/spiritual roots of American music. The best parts of the film are 1) A recording of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in a church with a gospel choir and 2) A performance of “When Love Came To Town” with blues-legend BB King. This one is definitely a must own.

4) The Supernatural Experience– At the height of their career DC Talk recorded “The Supernatural Experience”, which centered on their last studio album, and tour, as a band. This DVD shows a some-what over-publicized band at their best moments. “Supernatural” was the definition of DC Talk’s years of seeking identity, before Michael Tait, Kevin Max, and Toby Mac felt the urge to pursue solo projects. Say what you will, underneath all the hype and baggage associated with DC Talk/Christian bands in general, they were pretty talented and creative artists.

5) Heima, Sigur Ros– Ah, Sigur Ros. This film captures a tour Sigur Ros did in small towns in Iceland. As they tour the band finds every atmospheric locale they can find to put an exclamation point on their already beautifully orchestrated music. The sounds used in this film range from high-technology, to rocks gathered on a hill that make different tones, to a large ice-field that cracks and groans (for lack of a better word) with it’s slow movements. This movie is poetry.

6) Where the Light Is, John Mayer- I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’ve been told it’s good. From what I’ve heard this is a more stripped down John Mayer set, reminiscent of his focused guitar-and-vocals performances before he got gigantically huge with Heavier Things and Continuum.

7) No Direction Home– A documentary about the early days of Bob Dylan’s career, directed by Martin Scorsese. This shows Bob Dylan both at his defining career points (such as challenging the entire idea of folk music by playing electric at a Newport Folk Festival) and his fun-loving character. It also shows Dylan’s reluctance to be heralded as the spokesperson for protest movements. I don’t want to say too much, because there are many conversations to be had with this DVD. Come over some time and we’ll talk.

8 ) Shine a light, The Rolling Stones- A documentary on the career of The Rolling Stones (a band that has been famous for a long time, and no-one can really say why) also directed by Martin Scorsese. I actually haven’t seen this one yet either… does someone own it? Was it any good?

9) Live From Chicago, u2- I don’t think any-one really expected “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” to be a great album, but leave it to u2 to keep reinventing themselves every couple years, never finding themselves in a creative rut. This concert was performed during the Vertigo Tour, which I didn’t get to see because I was still a skeptic when this tour came through Vancouver. My best friend went to the show and came back with 97 reasons for me to feel jealous. This concert shines a light on their past career, as well as highlighting the personal nature of “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”. U2 is one of those bands that you can’t afford to miss in concert… ever. They’re coming to Vancouver again in the fall, but I can’t find a ticket! I really should learn my lesson.

10) Any concert DVD by Led Zeppelin– I think Nick Andopolis said it best: “I believe in God. I’ve seen him, I’ve felt his power! He plays drums for Led Zeppelin and his name is John Bonham baby!” Some friends of mine were watching a classic Led Zeppelin concert one time, and seeing the legendary drum solo by the late John Bonham was worth some attention. That man must have prayed a lot in his younger days to have been blessed with such a talent.

11) The Best of RadioheadRadiohead is another one of those bands you have to see in concert! I saw them last year at Thunderbird Stadium, and it was raining most of the time which made it a pretty surreal experience. I’m not sure if they’ve released a decent concert DVD yet, but they did release “The Best of”- a collection of all their best music videos.

12) A Hard Day’s Night– This is the defining rock-movie of our time. The Beatles filmed this one at the height of their popularity, and it shows the band in their young prime- before transitioning into, arguably, the most influential music career in our lifetimes. It’s a glimpse into that point in a band’s career where they realize: “Ah! I’m famous! Now what???”

13) Danielson : A Family MovieDanielson represents the influence of a humble, sincere approach to music (a common theme in artists like My Brightest Diamond, The Welcome Wagon, Rosie Thomas, Denison Witmer and a host of others). This documentary follows the development of Daniel Smith and his family- a group of his brothers and sisters who played with tooth and nail for awhile, gained a following over the years, then eventually started their own label (a very short synopsis). The result is a hopeful film that makes you feel at home, part of the family. It’s strange comparing Daniel Smith’s sincerity with his weird vocal style, and also comparing Sufjan’s shy quietness with his wildly famous and confident “Illinois“. I can’t say enough good about this movie. Download/Borrow/Buy it today!

14) I am trying to break your heart, Wilco– I still haven’t seen this one (how embarrassing). Is it any good? From what I’ve heard, Wilco is every independent band’s favorite band. They are a band that has maintained a loyal following over the years, but has never become highly successful (becoming the band that every person and their mom talks about). I could see this film centering a lot around the political side of being a smaller band who doesn’t always have the luxury of a major record company putting every aspect of their career in cruise control, so to speak. I will find this movie soon, then rethink my synopsis. Yes.

15) Tupac Ressurection– Tupac was an enigma in the music scene in his short life, leaving behind a wake of controversy and influence. This film strays away from the overtly negative aspects of Tupac’s life, focusing instead on his personal/artistic character. I think “Changes” alone is reason to revisit Tupac’s life and career.

16) La Blogotheque – La Blogotheque is a film company of sorts that films impromptu concerts with independent artists, most of them taking place in the streets of Paris. The best part about La Blogotheque is that you can watch all their movies online for free! The music is good too. (My favorites include: Fleet Foxes, Tallest Man On Earth, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens). Spend a day or two with these videos, or subscribe to the podcast and carry them around on your IPOD or your zune (Do not carry them around on your zune! in fact, throw your zune away. I am not a fan).

17) This is Who We Are, As I Lay Dying- As I Lay Dying, from what I can tell, is an artist who is committed to working on the art itself and reaching a diverse audience, not limiting themselves to a Christians-only audience (similar bands are Haste the Day, The Chariot, Thrice, and Norma Jean). As well they come across as an intelligent group. I put them in this list because it would suck to write off all hard-music as bad. I think it’s a pretty legitimate art form, and there’s a lot of truth to be found in any genre of music.

18) Finally, This is Spinal Tap– The rockumentary of the ages. This is Spinal Tap is a mock-film that gives insight into the world of 80’s hair/metal bands. If you haven’t seen this one yet make it a priority. Cancel your kid’s soccer game and settle in for an evening of quality family time, or something.

Thus concludes my short list. Do you know of any other music DVDs I really should watch? If so… comment comment comment!

(Man I want some comments. What a horrible addiction. This is why I like using Tumblr).



  1. Shine a light is a must see. These guys have more energy on stage than most bands today.If you’ve never seen them live, you’re missing out.

  2. The best of the best is “The Song Remains the Same”, will always be the standard for rock and roll!

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