There are rock concerts, there are movies, and there are rock concert movies. Then there are movies that contain scenes set at rock concerts.
It’s a tradition that stretches back to the early days of rock-and-roll, as evidenced by time capsule classics such as Don’t Knock the Rock (1956), which showcases Bill Haley and Little Richard performing, and The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) with live numbers by Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, the Platters, and, again, Little Richard.
The “beach party” movies of the 1960s kept the tradition going when Frankie and Annette’s high jinks would take a break for music from the likes of surf guitar king Dick Dale (Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party), the Kingsmen (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini), Nancy Sinatra and Bobby Fuller (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini) and, naturally, the Beach Boys (The Girls on the Beach). Two decades later, Fishbone paid tribute alongside Frankie, Annette, and Dick Dale themselves in the 1987 spoof, Back to the Beach.
Since then, numerous films have contained classic scenes set at shows by recognizable rock bands, from David Bowie in Christiane F. (1981) to the Plymsouls in Valley Girl (1983) to Oingo Boingo in Back to School (1986).
Along the way, live band movie cameos have amply represented heavy metal and hard rock. Here now are twenty killer highlights.
Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World (1992)
Alice Cooper – “Feed My Frankenstein”
Heavy metal icon Alice Cooper delivers one of cinema’s all-time great comedic monologues in Wayne’s World. It happens backstage in Milwaukee when, after a great show, our heroes Wayne (Mike Meyers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) approach Alice and ask if he gets to the city often.
The godfather of shock rock responds with a perfectly deadpan dissertation on the city’s history. Wayne and Garth then famously fall to their knees and bow worshipfully while proclaiming: “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”
For as well remembered as that Wayne’s World exchange is, the scene that precedes it often gets overlooked. It showcases Alice onstage, still the best in the business, tearing through “Feed My Frankenstein.” The movie’s producers originally wanted Alice to perform “School’s Out,” but Cooper’s legendary manager Shep Gordon insisted that a new song be used. He won and, as a result, the movie rocked that much more uniquely harder.
Alice gives Wayne and Garth a history lesson
Aerosmith in Wayne’s World 2 (1993)
Aerosmith – “Dude Looks Like a Lady”
Following Alice Cooper in the original Wayne’s World is no mean feat. Fortunately, as even Alice might expect, Aerosmith proved to bew more than up to the task.
Having already jammed with Wayne (Mike Meyers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) in Wayne’s mom’s basement on Saturday Night Live, Aerosmith the our hapless headbanger heroes on the big screen in Wayne’s World 2.
First, Boston’s baddest perform “Dude Looks Like a Lady” at a show that Wayne and Garth attend. Later, they close the movie with “Shut Up and Dance” as the headliners of “Waynestock,” a massive festival that Wayne and Garth are driven to mount by the ghost of Jim Morrison and a mysterious “weird naked Indian.”
Rush in I Love You Man (2009)
Rush – “Limelight”
It’s not that Rush so much as cameo or even co-star in the bro-comedy, I Love You Man; it’s more like they own the movie.
I Love You, Man follows the strained relationship between buttoned-up Peter Flaven (Paul Rudd) and loose-dude-with-a-cool-’tude Sydney Fife (Jason Segel). They finally arrive at common ground upon discover their shared, lifelong passion for Rush. Once the reluctant pals attend a Rush show and alternately air-guitar, air-bass, and, of course, air-drum to “Limelight,” a best-buds-for-life friendship explodes on the concert floor.
Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart had such a good time with real-life Rush devotees Rudd and Segel, that the movie’s characters returned in a six-minute video that played during performances on Rush’s 2010 Time Machine Tour. In it, Peter and Sydney manage to sneak backstage and meet their idols. Complications, most amusingly, result.
I Love You, Man guys backstage with Rush
AC/DC in Private Parts (1997)
AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long”
As a perfect parting shot at uptight executives and anti-rock squares everywhere, the Howard Stern biopic Private Parts ends with the King of All Media celebrating his liberation from “double-you-ENNNN-bee-see” at a fan rally in Manhattan’s Bryant Park.
Standing proudly onstage alongside Robin Quivers, Fred Norris, Gary Dell’abate, and Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling—plus his real-life parents, Ben and Ray Stern—Howard drives the crowd ba-ba-bonkers, and then introduces special guests AC/DC, who blaze through “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
Metallica in The Darwin Awards (2006)
Metallica – “No Leaf Clover” and “Sad but True”
For decades, Metallica had been meticulous in discerning what, if any, movies would be allowed to utilize the band’s music. For the Paradise Lost documentaries, about a trio of metal fans wrongly convicted of murder, Metallica not only granted the filmmakers music rights, they donated them for free. Alas, that case was a rare exception.
That’s what makes Metallica’s choice of an official big-screen debut so curious. The Darwin Awards is a barely-seen black comedy inspired by the once-popular website of the same name that catalogues actual deaths caused by the victims’ own apparent stupidity (the notion being that by eliminating themselves from the gene pool, each death moves human evolution forward).
Winona Ryder stars in the movie as an insurance investigator looking into fatality stories taken from the website. One scenario involves two headbangers, played by Lukas Haas and Judah Friedlander, attempting and failing to crash a Metallica concert by jumping a car over a security gate.
As Metallica performs “No Leaf Cover” and “Sad but True,” we watch the stunt go wrong. Lukas makes it, Judah doesn’t. Afterward, the members of Metallica greet their battered fan and offer condolences. Yes, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, and Robert Trujillo attempt to act.
The schadenfreude nature of The Darwin Awards brings to mind Homer Simpson’s reacting to a tragic news story by laughing and declaring, “It’s funny because I don’t know him!” With that in mind, Metallica only agreed to appear in the movie when it was revealed that the story about the fan’s death was mere urban legend. Still, dudes, of all things on which to pop your cinematic cherries—The Darwin Awards?
Kiss in Detroit Rock City (1999)
Kiss – “Detroit Rock City”
Detroit Rock City is a 1978-set celebration of all things Kiss. Terminator 2 kid Edward Furlong stars as the leader of a teenage garage band from Cleveland that’s hellbent on getting in to see their idols play the Motor City.
Slapstick obstacles and signs of the times arise nonstop, of course, including Trans-Am-piloting disco dorks and Mothers Against the Music of Kiss, all leading up to the climactic moment when Kiss takes the stage and blasts out the anthem of the title.
Alice in Chains and Soundgarden in Singles (1992)
Alice in Chains – “Would?”
Singles is writer-director Cameron Crowe’s snapshot of Seattle at peak grunge, right after Nirvana alerted the world to a uniquely bold and invigorating scene of metal-fortified punk emerging from America’s Pacific Northwest and pop culture beat a path to the rain-soaked, coffee-amplified cradle of rock’s last great commercially domineering moment (so far).:
The plot follows a handful of twentysomethings going about their coming-of-age business while grunge rumbles in the background. Emerging Seattle music stars dot the cast, most notably Pearl Jam, who portray the members of Citizen Dick, a band led by Matt Dillon as dim-bulb longhair Cliff (their signature song is a parody of “Touch Me I’m Sick” by Mudhoney: “Touch Me I’m Dick”).
While Paul Westerberg of the Replacements provides the musical score, Singles’ live songs come by way of Alice in Chains playing “Would?” and Soundgarden pounding out “Birth Ritual.” Even at the time, those bands seemed a trifle heavy for Singles’ otherwise entirely mainstream air of quirky cuteness and young adult romance. To watch the movie today, AIC and Soundgarden’s barnburners are even more jarring. That, of course, only makes them cooler.
Soundgarden – “Birth Ritual”
Cannibal Corpse in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Cannibal Corpse – “Hammer Smashed Face”
Circa 1994, Buffalo, New York brutalizers Cannibal Corpse both embodied death metal, rock’s sickest and most sadistic extreme, and actually managed to push the genre to new peaks/nadirs of severity with their every release.
At the same time, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective proved to be the surprise box office blockbuster of the spring, with kids and families packing theaters to enjoy emerging superstar funnyman Jim Carrey solving animal mysteries, talking out of his butt, and, oh yes, fronting Cannibal Corpse onstage at a death metal show for a rendition of “Hammer Smashed Face.”
How could this have happened? Only at the insistence of Jim Carrey himself. When the script called for Ace to enter a rock club, Carrey demanded that the band be played by his favorite artist of the moment: Cannibal Corpse. The band, at first perplexed, readily agreed and, in their 2008 documentary Centuries of Torment, the members recall how Carrey greeted Cannibal Corpse as an adoring fan who serenaded them with their own obscure lyrics.
Primus in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Primus-“Tommy the Cat”
While both Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and this equally fun follow-up focus on Wyld Stallyns, the super-powered metal band dreamt up by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as the titular heroes, real-life musical adventurers Primus get a prime spot in Bogus Journey.
During the climactic San Dimas Battle of the Bands, Primus thumps out “Tommy the Cat” while Wyld Stallyns prep backstage. After becoming world-class musicians by use of time travel, Wyld Stallyns blow even Les Claypool and company off the stage. Of course, the Stallyns are assisted by Death (William Sadler) himself and good robot versions of themselves, but it’s their movie, so they automatically earn the win.
Rammstein in xXx (2002)
Rammstein – “Feurer Frei!”
Vin Diesel’s globetrotting action-adventure epic xXx opens with German industrial metal blitzkrieg brigade Rammstein pummeling a crazed crowd at an underground concert. A secret agent mingles with the revelers, gathering intel on a terrorist group called Anarchy 99, the members of whom are ex-Soviet military and, clearly, big fans of Rammstein.
Watching the band at their boot-stomping, foundation-rattling most quasi-fascistic mesmerizing best here, it only makes sense that, yes, of course Rammstein is the favorite group of former Eastern bloc mercenaries in possession of a major chemical weapon. What’s more: Rammstein makes you want to root for the bad guys to win.
ZZ Top in Back to the Future Part III (1990)
ZZ Top – “Doubleback”
ZZ Top certainly didn’t have to adjust their facial hair to play cowboy musicians in the Old West-set Back to the Future Part III. They did however, somewhat shockingly, ditch their trademark sunglasses.
Portraying members of a frontier band at a town dance, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard play an acoustic, wordless version of their theme from the movie, “Doubleback.” The trio remains unrecognizable as ZZ Top until the scene’s climactic moment when, as a treat for fans, they reveal themselves by spinning their guitars in the signature manner from their most popular MTV videos.
The Yardbirds in Blow-Up (1966)
The Yardbrids – “Stroll On”
Italian art film director Michelangelo Antonio electrifyingly captures swinging London’s mod movement of the mid-1960s in Blow-Up. The acclaimed cult film is also a thrilling and fascinating mystery that’s set in motion when a hip photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) believes he’s inadvertently captured a murder on film.
Thomas’s pursuit of justice eventually leads him to a rock club where the Yardbirds—featuring both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page—are on stage, explosively performing “Stroll On.”
When amplifier feedback prompts Beck to smash his guitar and throw the neck to the crowd, where Thomas grabs it and speeds off. He then ditches the neck on the sidewalk, where a passerby disregards it as trash, not knowing it’s a treasured relic of guitar hero Beck. It’s a heavy moment.
Gwar in Empire Records (1995)
Gwar – “Saddam-a-Go-Go”
The hyper-’90s cult coming-of-age comedy Empire Records features gross-out theatrical metal monsters Gwar doing an appearance at the store of the title, as well as performing “Saddam-a-Go-Go” in a fantasy had by marijuana-friendly employee Mark (Ethan Embry).
While watching Gwar on TV, Mark imagines himself jamming on guitar with the band until he gets devoured by one of their mammoth space-louse puppets. He’s distressed at first until, properly, he likes scenario that even better.
The Offspring in Idle Hands (1999)
The Offspring – “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Beheaded”
SoCal skate-park pop-punk sensations the Offspring open the horror comedy Idle Hands with a cover of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” following by their own number, “Beheaded.” The movie’s teen characters bop around in the crowd, setting up a plot about the right hand of stoner dude Anton Tobias (Devon Sawa) getting possessed by demonic forces on Halloween night.
Helmet in The Jerky Boys (1995)
Ozzy Osbourne as Helmet’s manager
Seemingly humorless New York City alt-metal heroes Helmet seemed a strange pick to appear in a movie based on tapes of prank phone calls and starring the two hilarious knuckleheads who made them, but there they are in The Jerky Boys: commanding a rock club stage, and rocking out a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe.”
Less surprising is Ozzy Osbourne’s funny cameo as their manager who gets bamboozled into believing telephonic funnymen Johnny B. and Kamahl are new members of Helmet’s road crew. “We can wire a toilet that can suck the pants off ya!” fast-talking Johnny claims. “We’re da best!” Ozzy can’t argue with that, so the show goes on.
Mudhoney in Black Sheep (1996)
Mudhoney on Black Sheep
After their smash road trip Tommy Boy (1995), Chris Farley and David Spade hit the campaign trail in Black Sheep, stumping for Tim Matheson as a Farley’s straight-laced brother who’s running for governor of the state of Washington.
Local heroes Mudhoney appear during a Rock the Vote rally, performing “Poisoned Water Poisons the Mind” and setting up a killer scene where Farley, high on weed and with his fly wide open, whips the crowd into a frenzy by blurting out, “Voting kicks ass!” and belly-flopping across the stage.
L7 in Serial Mom (1994)
L7 as Camel Lips – “Gas Chamber”
Serial Mom, written and directed by cinema’s madcap pop of outrage John Waters, stars Kathleen Turner as a psychotically polite suburban housewife who routinely executes anyone she comes across who violates her decidedly inflexible standards of decorum.
One such unfortunate is video store clerk Chip (Matthew Lillard), who flees Serial Mom by running into Baltimore’s legendary Hammerjack’s rock club. L7, under the name Camel Lips, is performing “Gas Chamber” onstage. When Serial Mom sets Chip ablaze, the crowd cheers, thinking it’s part of Camel Lips’ theatrical stage show. What a burn.
Autograph in Like Father, Like Son (1987)
Autograph – “She Never Looked That Good for Me”
One of gaggle of late-1980s teenage body-swap comedies, the Kirk Cameron-Dudley Moore vehicle Like Father, Like Son is also one of two such films in which characters attend a concert by a real-life heavy metal band (Vice Versa is the other; that’s coming up).
Kirk takes a date to see one-hit hair-metal wonders Autograph (“Turn Up the Radio”) perform their non-hit, “She Never Looked That Good to Me.” As he’s supposed to be inhabited by the spirit of Moore as his square dad, Kirk acts alarmed and outraged by the music. More likely is that Kirk Cameron was upset that producers hadn’t instead hired Stryper.
Malice in Vice Versa (1988)
Malice – “Crazy in the Night”
Vice Versa casts Fred Savage and Judge Rheinhold as a father and son who magically switch bodies (as was quite the rage in movies at the time). It also proposes that Savage’s clean-cut, twelve-year-old character is a devoted fan of Minneapolis power-metal marauders Malice. As a result, Rheinhold attends a Malice concert and gets an autograph (“To Charlie, Party till you puke! Love, Malice”).
While Like Father, Like Son understandably utilized pop metal group Autograph, Malice really is a weird choice for Vice Versa. It’s not “Cannibal Corpse in Ace Ventura”-weird, but, still, the seriously leather-and-stud-clad Malice specializes in a soaring, intense form of metal akin to Judas Priest, Manowar, and Accept. That’s what kiddie audiences got a dose of, then, in Vice Versa, as Malice wails out “Crazy in the Night” to Judge Rheinhold’s delight.
Angel in Foxes (1980)
Angel – Foxes trailer
Disco label Casablanca also served as home for Kiss throughout the ’70s. After Gene Simmons discovered glammy, prog-tinged hard rockers Angel performing in Kansas, the group was signed to Casablanca in 1975 and billed as “the anti-Kiss.”
Whereas Kiss wore black and demonically spewed fire and blood, Angel’s members played in all white and their elaborate stage shows featured only heavenly imagery. They also asked their concert audiences to wear white into order to create an atmosphere of rocking divinity.
Angel never broke out above cult status (although their keyboardist, Gregg Giuffria, scored a one-off 1984 hit, “Call to the Heart”), but they do memorably appear in the 1980 coming-of-age classic Foxes.
Jodie Foster and the Runaways’ Cherie Currie co-star in Foxes as part of an interconnected group of wayward L.A. teens. One key moment that brings all the characters together is when they each attend an Angel concert. The group plays two numbers, “Virginia” and the movie’s should-have-been-a-hit theme song, “20th Century Foxes.”
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).
[Photo: Getty Images]