Press play: 20 unmissable online gigs

Want to see James Brown, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and other megastars in concert for free? Head to YouTube for a trove of live music films

Every minute of the day more than 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube. It’s an inventory that will include a huge swathe of this, that and the other. (The latter is usually cat videos.) In the midst of clips from last night’s TV shows, backyard pranks and badly executed viral ads, you’ll find a lot of music.

From promo videos that were once the stuff of late-night TV shows to interviews that show musicians are often better off sticking to singing and playing instruments, music is a significant YouTube colony. Since Google, which owns YouTube, got rid of the 15-minute cap on video length, in 2010, full live concerts have become a big YouTube draw.

You could spend many a happy hour trawling through the archives, uncovering all kinds of stuff. Select any artist who comes to mind who plays live shows and chances are that you’ll find dozens of concert clips from all stages of their career. For anyone who ever collected bootleg live recordings, the fact that these shows are now up there in all their glory is something to marvel at.

In most cases the videos are very good quality, as many have been ripped from official DVD releases; others are recordings taken from television shows or festival streams. You'll even occasionally find decent footage shot on shaky hand-held cameras from the middle of the audience, just like those bootleg tapes of old recorded on battered Sony Professional machines.


Here, then, are 20 concerts worth searching out on YouTube:

1 John Coltrane, Belgium, 1965
Recorded at an open-air show in Comblain-La- Tour in August 1965, in the wake of the release earlier that year of A Love Supreme. Coltrane and his band – McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones – deliver a hypnotic, wide and deep three-song set full of magnetic, heavenly sweeps of sound. Watch at

2 Nina Simone, New York, 1969
From Harlem Cultural Festival, the "Black Woodstock" that also featured Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, The Chambers Brothers and more, here's Nina Simone preaching revolution to 100,000 people in Marcus Garvey Park. It's a riveting, blistering performance, the singer full of fire and anger, while her band hit the sweet spot again and again.

3 The Clash, Munich, 1977
Only 18 minutes long but a show with more power and wow than most concerts three or four times the length. Filmed by Wolfgang Büld for the highly recommended Punk in London documentary, this was The Clash at the height of their powers, on the White Riot tour.

4 Public Enemy, London, 1987
Recorded at Hammersmith Odeon in November 1987, here are Chuck D, Flavor Flav and co bringing the noise to London for the first time. It's a firecracker of a show, the group delivering a raucous, no-holds- barred performance; the short interviews that pop up a few times get across a sense of Chuck D in particular readying himself for the close-up he knows is coming.

5 Van Morrison, Montreux Jazz Festival, 1980
Montreux Jazz Festival's back catalogue is a trove of brilliantly shot performances. You'll find two shows by Van the Man, one from 1974 (featuring three musicians looking understandably wary given that they'd never played with him before) and this 1980 performance, with Morrison and big band throwing considerable zip and vigour into the set.

6 Bruce Springsteen, London, 1975
It's Springsteen and the E Street Band's first show outside their native land, so they start off as they mean to go on, with a searing, spine-chilling version of Thunder Road. Watch this and you understand why people still flock to Springsteen shows in search of similar thrills nearly 40 years on.

7 Marvin Gaye, Atlanta, 1974
Recorded for the Midnight Special TV show, this features marvellous Marvin at large with his brilliant band on a ton of stone-cold classics, from What's Going On to Trouble Man. He was dapperest soul dude in the business; check his 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival show for more superior threads.

8 Johnny Cash, New York, 1994
Nineteen ninety-four was a significant year for Cash, thanks to his American Recordings album and the beginning of a hugely creative relationship with Rick Rubin. Recorded at the Manhattan Center, in New York, it's a show that captures the singer beginning to relish the fact that his dalliance with Rubin is going to attract a whole new audience.

9 Miles Davis, Isle of Wight, 1970
Back in 1970 Davis found himself playing barn-storming free jazz to 600,000 people between sets by Tiny Tim and Ten Years After. It made for a wild 38 minutes from the far side, played to rapt applause. Could you imagine a jazzer of today either getting to play on the main stage of Glastonbury, the new-school Isle of Wight or Electric Picnic or getting that kind of response?

10 Rory Gallagher, Macroom, 1978
Here's what Irish festivals used to look like. Recorded by a German broadcaster, Sender Freies Berlin, it features footage from Gallagher's appearance at the Mountain Dew festival, as well as great behind-the-scenes footage about the lead-up to the gig. Best bit? Rory's arrival onstage in a car that veers dangerously towards a ditch.

11 The Waterboys, Nürburg, 1986
Recorded at the Rock Am Ring festival, here are The Waterboys bossing the big music with panache, flair and gumption. The video features only three tracks, but the energy that comes from the screen is transcendental.

12 Can, Cologne, 1972
It's February 1972, and Can mark Spoon's getting to the top of the German charts with a free show for 10,000 fans. Filmed by Peter Przygodda, it's a mesmerising document of a groundbreaking band hitting the mark repeatedly.

13 David Byrne & St Vincent, Bethesda, 2013
There's a lot of David Byrne in the YouTube wash, from solo shows to vintage Talking Heads performances. We're going with this one at the Strathmore music hall, in Maryland, for NPR. Byrne, Annie "St Vincent" Clark and a swaggering band get to have a lot of fun with songs from the Love This Giant album – and a few classics too.

14 James Brown, Santa Monica, 1964
The Godfather of Soul is well represented on YouTube, including the infamous Boston Garden show in 1968 (recorded the night after Martin Luther King was assassinated) and a great 1967 performance from Paris. We're going with this gig from an awards show because of the excitement, incredible dancing and unstoppable energy of the main man's performance.

15 Arcade Fire, Paredes de Coura, 2005 One of several memorable shows played by the band in 2005 after they released their debut album, Funeral. They may have been down the bill at the Portuguese festival, but you can see the early signs of the transformation from being just another Canadian band into potential world-beaters.

16 David Bowie, Tokyo, 1978
We may never get to see David Bowie in concert again, but luckily the archives have plenty to feast on. This one, shot on the last date of the Low/Heroes tour, saw Bowie and his band playing in Tokyo. Fantastic performances of Suffragette City and Station to Station in particular.

17 Fugazi, Berkeley, 1990
Number 924 Gilman Street was an all-ages venue in Berkeley, California, where many hardcore and punk-rock acts played when passing through California. One of these acts was Fugazi, who turned up a few weeks after the release of their debut album, Repeater. A visceral reminder of the Washington DC band at their finest.

18 Aretha Franklin, San Francisco, 1971
Aretha Franklin and her band of top-drawer session musicians played three nights in a row at the fabled Fillmore West in March 1971. Here's a chance to dig one of the highlights as Ray Charles joins the ensemble for a roof-raising take on Spirit in the Dark.

19 The Rolling Stones, London, 1971
The Stones had long outgrown the Marquee when they returned to the venue in 1971 for a TV special. That said, it's quite revealing to see an arena- and stadium-filling act return to their roots with such panache. Midnight Rambler sounds amazing.

20 Future Islands, Washington DC, 2014
If you can't get enough of Samuel Herring's uncompromising dance steps, as broadcast on Late Show With David Letterman in March, this is for you. Filmed at the 9:30 Club, in Washington DC, it's a performance from a band finally enjoying their just deserts after a long apprenticeship.