Best Of Netflix: Epic Concerts

There are much worse ways to spend 11 hours in Chicago than with a bunch of guitar heroes and Bill Murray as their emcee, you know. The Crossroads Guitar Festival was founded by Eric Clapton as a benefit for the Crossroads Centre, a drug treatment facility in Antigua; previously held in 2004 and 2007, the fest features a bunch of A-list musicians hand-picked by Clapton himself bringing incredible guitar sounds to the Windy City’s Toyota Park. Yeah, at 11 hours, it’s ultimately a bit exhausting, but there are some incredible acts to behold here, including Sonny Landreth, John McLaughlin, B.B. King, Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, ZZ Top, Steve Winwood, Willie Nelson and Jeff Beck, all weaving in and out of each other’s performances as they create an ever-evolving masterpiece of guitar magic (with the occasional comic interlude by the always-amusing Murray). Clapton and Winwood do a spectacular rendition of “Crossroads,” the Cream classic that became a theme song for wandering spirits who believe more in the journey than the destination, and the show closes with, of course, “Sweet Home Chicago,” as performed by Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, John Mayer, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmie Vaughan and Johnny Winter. Very sweet indeed.

Chances are if you’re a Bob Marley & the Wailers fan, you’re also a fan of Jimmy Cliff, another reggae pioneer and currently the only living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honor that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences. In this documentary that mixes interviews and concert footage, Jimmy gives a tour of his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica as he recalls his humble beginnings and the many highlights of his life and career — and expresses the deep love and respect he has for his homeland and its culture, coming across as a man and artist as kind-hearted as he is talented; intercut with this inspiring behind-the-scenes look are live performances of some of his greatest hits, including “The Harder They Come” (the title song to the 1972 film in which Cliff played Ivanhoe Martin, a meta-fictional version of himself), “Many Rivers to Cross,” “Crime, “You Can Really Get It If You Really Want” and “Sitting in Limbo.” Ultimately, Jimmy Cliff: Moving On (2003) is a much more modest film than Kevin MacDonald’s recent exhaustive (and exhausting) Marley — and a much more personable one, at that. Fun facts: Cliff appeared in the 1986 Robin Williams comedy, Club Paradise, and provided many of the songs on the film’s soundtrack; he also did a much-celebrated cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” for the rather awesome 1993 movie about the first Jamaican bobsled team, Cool Runnings.

You want to rock and roll all night (and party every day)? Indulge those urges with this 2005 compilation of live performances, music videos and behind-the-scenes footage featuring one of the greatest hard rock acts of all time. KISS are nothing if not balls-to-the-wall showmen, working their crazy hair, trademark bizarro makeup and, in at least the case of Gene Simmons, lengthy (really lengthy) tongues. Rock the freak out with a kick-ass (or is that KISS-ass?) set list that includes “Lick It Up,” “Parasite,” “I Love It Loud,” “War Machine,” “Christine Sixteen,” “Detroit Rock City,” “God Gave Rock & Roll To You II” (a moving ode to community and fellowship made all the more excellent by the Bill and Ted movies) and, of course, a “Rock and Roll All Nite” encore that’s as seethingly transcendent as you could ever hope it to be. Performed in July 2004 at the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Virginia; unfortunately, the streaming version isn’t equipped with the DVD’s “Kiss Powervision,” which enables the viewer to select different camera angles that each focus on a different member of the band. Sweet.

Wu-Tang Clan has put on better shows than Live at Montreux, but this concert film still features the fiercely original hip hop collective bringing the showmanship (and the Pain and da Ruckus) as they gather to perform most of their classics. With the exception of the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard (whose presence is definitely felt), the entire Clan is here: RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon The Chef, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa, with some extended family members like Cappadonna, Streetlife and Allah Mathematics on hand as well. The crowd goes absolutely insane as they open with “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing to F’Wit” (a brazen claim that is most definitely still true) and from there deliver an immensely satisfying set list (31 tracks in all), with highlights being “One Blood Under W,” “Uzi,” Protect Ya Neck” and, of course, “Method Man.” Everyone has aged rather well, with almost everyone sounding pretty much like they sounded on the original albums; Inspectah Deck makes up for his now much-lower voice (which sounds a little strange every now and then) with his awesome stage presence, and Ghostface Killah’s somewhat minimal participation only means he brings out the big guns when it’s time for him to take the spotlight. The quality of the sound and vision here is also excellent, which isn’t always the case with a Live at Montreux concert. Join the Clan on the shores of Lake Geneva!

What, no “TV Dinners?” Despite a somewhat limited set list (besides the absence of Eliminator‘s biggest guilty pleasure, the entire Recycler album is ignored, which means no Back to the Future Part III song for you!), ZZ Top: Live From Texas (2008) is a rousing session of Southern rock and blues featuring the inimitable trio in trim, fighting shape as they’re all pushing 60 (and still singing about the important things in life like cars, girls and good barbecue). Billy Gibbons (guitar and vocals), Dusty Hill (bass and vocals) and Frank Beard (drums, and the only one without a beard) are obviously relishing being back in their home state, getting right down to it with a terrific rendition of Eliminator‘s “Got Me Under Pressure”; from there, you get tried and true favorites like “Cheap Sunglasses,” “La Grange” and “Tush” as well as old MTV hits like “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and the still-poignant “Rough Boy” (a song turned into an unexpected sci-fi anthem thanks to its oft-aired music video). Billy may have to resort to lip-synching on more than one song (though, to his credit, he does little to cover it up), but musically these guys remain crowd-pleasing virtuosos, with Gibbons and Hill still effortlessly cool as they slowly sway back and forth and experience the world through shades and epic beards.