The seismic event that has shaken the music industry since Feb 2020 has tempted many artists to explore video and live-streaming as an outlet of expression to varying degrees of success.
The ambition to use video to craft iconic concerts for the screen is no novelty. For most of the second half of the 20th century, artists have blended audio and visual experiences to accentuate their performances, some to staggering levels of inspiration.
The saying goes “The past is behind, learn from it.” In that spirit we have compiled a selection of concerts that changed and expanded the very concept of what a (filmed) live performance is. From conceptual to practical effects, these unique moments in musical history can serve as inspiration for today’s artists.
“We didn’t want the clichés. We didn’t want close-ups of people’s fingers while they’re doing a guitar solo. We wanted the camera to linger, so you could get to know the musicians a little bit.”
Regularly voted as one of the greatest filmed concerts of all time “Stop Making Sense” was also the very first made using only digital audio techniques and represented the band’s ambition to present a show to the viewer as if they had the best seat in the house which, to them, meant not looking at the audience. All finely directed by Jonathan Demme who would go on to win an Oscar for “The Silence of the Lambs.”
The show builds from a solo David Bryne with a tape player and guitar on an empty stage adding more band members/instruments with each song before we are then taken on a fantastic ride partly inspired by classical Japanese noh theatre. It includes some well thought lighting choices, lounge furniture fixtures and David’s famous oversized suit: “I wanted my head to appear smaller and the easiest way to do that was to make my body bigger, because music is very physical and often the body understands it before the head.”
His physicality dominates the entire performance, somehow making spasms beautiful, nailing the most jarring of dance moves like a weird uncle at a wedding, or jogging all over. One special moment comes in the form of a delightful jig with a lamp during “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” proving that simple and cheap gestures can have resounding effects “same as it ever was.”
Laurie Anderson crystallized her Mister Heartbreak era for the ages with this sparkling combination of animation, dance and comedy as well as heavy doses of some welcome social commentary, irony and real emotion over 90 breathtaking minutes. The self-directed multimedia bonanza involves multiple costumes, lectures in the form of stand-up, instruments you’ve never seen before (one of which she invented) and two cameos from beat godfather William Burroughs who leaves the stage tangoing into the shadows with our star.
This all pans out beneath a large rear-projection screen filled with hypnotic slogans or futuristic loops as we are captivated by the tightly choreographed additions of her star-studded backing band. It’s members include King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew, percussionist David Van Tieghem who’s played with Eno and Riech as well as Bowie’s former backing vocalists Janice Pendarvis and Dolette McDonald. Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Roger Ebert described the performance as “ stimulating and joyful” and noted that “You can’t put your finger on it, but after you leave, you have the feeling that your perception of things has been skewed slightly.” This should surely be the one true aim of every live stream shouldn’t it?
Samba and bossa nova have the incomparable capacity to transport its listener to different time and space. Romantic, familiar and deeply personal, it evokes a whirlwind of deep emotions even if you don’t speak Portuguese.
How do you capture its essence? How do you explore and reflect its multifaceted nature? A difficult question and undertaking, but one that the producers of ‘Ensaio’ (a concert/interview program broadcast on Brasil’s TV Cultura) were able to answer when they invited legendary guitarist Baden Powell to their studio.
What ensued was a marvel to behold: With a solo acoustic guitar, Baden led the audience into a sonic journey that was amplified by sparse use of studio lighting and tight camera shots that heightened the intimate nature of his evocative music. By understanding the essence of the artist and his music, the production team played to Baden’s strengths as they showcased his humble and sincere nature. The camera elevated the experience for the audience at home to the point that even an old VHS recording of the broadcast stills send shivers down one’s spine.
A perfect example of how creative use of lighting and shadows can enhance a viewing experience, and of how even a simple acoustic performance can hold an immense transcendent power.
This infamous and ill-fated extravaganza was supposed to mark the return of The Rolling Stones, yet it’s failures were multiple. Various bad decisions were made in the planning stages that should have been carefully considered together with the production crew. But there is still much to learn in the sense of how to include the talents around you, the pull of multiple band line-ups and importantly; how to really entertain!
Jugglers, fire-eaters, midgets, trapeze artists all performed in between sets by The Who, Marianne Faithfull and more as well as the one-shot supergroup led by John Lennon and Yoko Ono featuring Eric Clapton. All under an improvised circus tent with 300 or so of the hippest young cats of the scene slowly getting twisted as the day rolled into night.
By the time The Stones hit the stage it was approaching dawn after 15 hours of mismanaged shooting where they’d been upstaged by Taj Mahal and Brian Jones was losing it. Jagger wisely realised this shouldn’t go out on the BBC as planned and the footage was “lost” for decades. Finally it came out in 1996 and as an expanded set in 2019. But still what a show!