Missed the Summer Music Festivals? Stream These Classic Performances at Home
Posted August 23, 2018 7:26 p.m. EDT
Music festivals and concert tours can be a huge hassle. They’re too hot, too crowded, too loud, too expensive and often too far away. But just because you couldn’t make it to Lollapalooza, or you can’t afford to see Jay-Z and Beyoncé, doesn’t mean you’re condemned to a life without live music.
This is a boom time for catching classic concert films, award-winning music documentaries and contemporary live performance series online.
Scroll through YouTube, for example, and you can easily find things like NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts” or short indie rock sets at the KEXP studios — all free, all legally uploaded. The PBS app features select songs from “Austin City Limits” and whole episodes of “Great Performances.”
The free website and app Red Bull TV live-streams an array of music festivals. And big subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu offer excellent music specials and docs.
Then there’s Stingray Qello: Some of its offerings are available through the platforms listed above, but Qello has the edge in its breadth and in the quality of its curation. The site and app are easy to browse by artist, genre and era; and there are thousands of concerts, docs and music-focused TV series to pick from, ranging from the mid-20th century to now.
For an “All Access Pass,” Qello costs $7.99 per month or $69.99 for a year. Nonsubscribers can sample Qello using the QelloTV page, which streams an assortment of videos all day and night on 33 genre-specific channels — sort of like an internet radio service.
Subscribers get to choose what they want and when, either watching programs in full or skipping straight to individual songs and scenes. Subscribers can also compile their favorite performances into video “setlists” and watch them anytime. Here’s a rundown of some of the best of what Qello offers, with links for subscribers:
Qello is stocked with documentaries that cast a wide net across individual careers and entire genres, be it the classic rock of Tom Petty, as exhaustively explored in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” or the West Coast singer-songwriter revolution of James Taylor and Carole King, as seen in “Troubadours.” Here are six more must-sees:
‘No Direction Home: Bob Dylan’
Director Martin Scorsese and editor David Tedeschi do a masterly job of turning archival material and existing interviews into an enlightening study of an enigmatic artist. By focusing on Dylan’s creative leaps and mercurial transformations between 1960 and 1966, “No Direction Home” explains how American popular culture changed over the course of an eventful half-decade.
‘Let’s Get Lost’
With perfectly composed, strikingly lit shots, fashion photographer Bruce Weber offers a painstakingly intimate portrait of the jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker, a once handsome man who, by the late 1980s, had run himself ragged with decades of self-sabotage. The film serves as a good overview of Baker’s groundbreaking recording career while also depicting the ravages of heroin addiction.
Benjamin Franzen’s documentary about the controversies surrounding sampling — the craft of using other artists’ recording to create something new — sheds a lot of light on a subject that is still widely misunderstood by traditionalists, who think the only real music is made with conventional instruments. It features interviews with innovative DJs and producers like Hank Shocklee and Mix Master Mike.
‘Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme’
This documentary by Kevin Fitzgerald considers hip-hop less as a cultural force than as a musical form. The bulk consists of spirited “rap battles,” featuring people who aren’t big stars. But alongside all the off-the-cuff rhyming and put-downs, Fitzgerald talks to more established artists — including members of the Roots and Jurassic 5 — about whether improvisation or written lyrics are superior.
As country music grew more and more mainstream in the 1970s, a loose collective of longhaired “outlaw” songwriters and performers based in Nashville, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas, led a back-to-the-roots insurgence. Filmmaker James Szalapski’s verité-style documentary “Heartworn Highways” is built mostly around the picking parties attended by the likes of Guy Clark, David Allan Coe, Townes Van Zandt and a very young Steve Earle.
‘The Night James Brown Saved Boston’
Two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., James Brown performed in a live telecast on WGBH in Boston, in front of a majority black crowd in no mood to be pushed around by the white cops doing security. This documentary tells the story of how the concert came to be, cut with absolutely electrifying footage of Brown and his phenomenal band, working simultaneously to entertain and to ease tensions.
One of Qello’s more valuable functions is as a repository for performances that were otherwise languishing on out-of-print VHS tapes or hard-to-find DVDs, from Tupac Shakur’s fiery set at the House of Blues to a performance by Joni Mitchell in front of a gallery of her own paintings. The site has classics of the genre and beloved obscurities.
‘1991: The Year Punk Broke’
Nirvana was still a cult band when it joined Sonic Youth and a handful of other art-punk and grunge acts on a European tour that director Dave Markey filmed. “The Year Punk Broke” catches the playfulness and endearingly bratty attitudes of a bunch of scruffy musicians out on the road — a few of whom were about to become millionaires, unexpectedly.
‘Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970’
Documentarian Murray Lerner had crews all over the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, intending to make a film he hoped would be as huge as “Woodstock.” Instead, the fest was a notorious boondoggle, plagued by audience revolts and money woes. For legal reasons, it wasn’t until decades later that Lerner started organizing his footage into shorter, artist-focused performance films (many of which are available on Qello). The one on Leonard Cohen is exemplary, conveying both the restlessness of the crowd and Cohen’s power to tame it.
‘Queen: Live at Wembley Stadium’
One of rock’s greatest live bands is represented on Qello by concerts from pretty much every era: from the big-haired, operatic ‘70s to the leather-clad New Wave ‘80s. Start with the 1986 Wembley Stadium gig, which runs nearly two hours, balances big hits and deep cuts, and features both Freddie Mercury and guitarist Brian May in exceptional form.
‘Selena: The Last Concert’
A month before Mexican-American pop idol Selena was murdered, she performed in a live broadcast from a packed Astrodome, mixing disco covers with the slick, polyrhythmic Tejano ballads that had made her a star. This show was later immortalized in the 1997 biopic “Selena,” starring Jennifer Lopez. But nothing beats the original.
‘Stop Making Sense’
Generally (and rightly) regarded as the greatest rock concert film of all time, Jonathan Demme’s document of Talking Heads’ conceptually brilliant 1983 tour is a true collaboration between a group of exuberant musicians and a director with the bright idea to treat each song as its own little mini-movie. “Stop Making Sense” is a joy to listen to, and it’s a treat for the eye. But it’s also reassuringly humane.
Music TV Series
Qello has several episodes each of the venerable TV series like “MTV Unplugged” and “Soundstage,” featuring artists as eclectic as Eric Clapton, Placebo, Macy Gray, and Alanis Morissette. Qello is also the home of the excellent “Classic Albums” series, in which artists like the Who, Steely Dan and Pink Floyd sit behind mixing boards and revisit their best-known records.
‘All You Need Is Love’
In the mid-70s, British documentarian and writer Tony Palmer spent years assembling a 17-part, 15-hour series on the history of popular music in the 20th century. Only 12 episodes appear to be available on Qello, and each is both a provocation and an education, using vintage clips and frank, opinionated interviews to explore the deeper meanings of jazz, the blues, vaudeville, the Beatles, glam rock and more.
‘MTV Unplugged: Lauryn Hill’
This 2001 set debuted Lauryn Hill’s first new songs since her Grammy-winning smash “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and also presented a different side of her: at once vulnerable and at times unnervingly loquacious. The performance is a mesmerizing look at a pop star who dared to reinvent herself in public.
‘Soundstage: Tori Amos’
In the early 2000s, “Soundstage” on PBS showcased some veteran ‘90s alt-rock stars at the peak of their powers. Here, Tori Amos is absolutely riveting, sitting at her piano in front of an accomplished band, singing dramatic songs about her deep personal pain.