This is one of rock's legendary concerts, a gig even Quentin Tarantino cites as among the top three rock movies of all time. The Shout! Factory label has brought a real treasure out in full original form for the first time since its 1964 theatrical release. Not only does the flick's history have a bit of controversy to it, but the entire cast of participants—including producers, sessioneers, and dancers—is exceedingly colorful. However, The T.A.M.I. Show*s chiefest value lies in the fact that every performance is completely live, not a shred of that bane of the 60s & 70s—lip-synching—anywhere.
Jan & Dean host the event, participating musically about halfway into the extravaganza with a couple of chestnuts, and the line-up is absolutely stellar: the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Beach Boys, etc., even a rare one-shot from garagemeisters The Barbarians. The affair was staged at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, California, in 1964, and, my family having translocated to SoCal from Massachusetts a couple years earlier, I distinctly recall all the hubbub surrounding the impending gala. Good luck getting a ticket at the time, though! I didn't and had to content myself with later attending the Beach Boys' alma mater, Hawthorne High School (they even played our Senior Prom, but, er, I didn't go to that either!).
Industry and social buzz extended like a flamethrower after the event, and a movie of the concert slammed into the box office, later to be bootlegged in millions of copies. Small wonder: James Brown's blazing performance inspired Michael Jackson, Sting, Prince, and God only knows how many others, further putting the sweat on Mick Jagger from that moment forward, coming to be regarded as "the single greatest rock and roll performance ever captured on film" (Rick Rubin). Just as interesting was the exchange between Chuck Berry and Gerry & the Pacemakers, the latter of whom picked up on Berry's work as his performances closed down, then switched back and forth with the hallowed guitar player song after song.
The Beach Boys set, of course, is letter perfect, and a sterling example putting the lie to a common-ish rumor that most of the ensembles of the time were incapable of operating outside a studio well supplied with professional session men. The true center of everything, though, was without doubt the godfather of soul, James Brown. From the moment he hits the stage with his incredible footwork and moves, the energy level goes through the roof. The guy wasn't just a superlative singer, dancer, and choreographer but an athlete. Aaaaand lemme tell ya that Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham had nothing on Brother James. He just smokes in sharp stagecraft well beyond its time.
A small imbroglio erupted well before the day of the show, however: the Stones had ever been major exponents of black blues and well knew Brown's ferocious stage acumen, refusing to go on after him. Who can blame 'em? For his part, Brown, miffed at being denied the closing spot, vowed he'd make the English group regret it ever set one damn foot in the States. Management refused to alter the line up, and the scene was set for what would prefigure the later famous Who / Hendrix tet-a-tet at Woodstock. Naturally, Brown outdid himself, driving the crowd crazy during an elongation of Please, Please, Please, after which Otis, Elvis, and Sammy, from wherever they were, could only look on in astonished envy. Pity the lads, then, from across the waters.
Ahhhh, but Mick and his bad boys didn't survive so long in the biz because they hadn't known the score. As the ensemble strode on stage, the fans were, if anything, even more pumped, and so, from a smooth confident start, Mick soon showed he'd been paying attention, displaying his own fancy dancin' as Keith Chuck Berried away on guitar. The gents knew their turf and, if Brown had rattled 'em, and he must have, it didn't show for a second. This was one of several career high points for the lads, as the short-lived brilliant Brian Jones was among them. That presence helped assure a showing as tight as the Beach Boys but a whole lot earthier. By the second number, Off the Hook, the band was fully in command, and by the time their set wound down, even Brown was impressed and, though it's not shown here, he, off-stage, walked up and shook their hands, days later inviting them up for bows at an Apollo gig—a true gentleman, a true artist.
But that's not all. The peripheral stage dancing is superb, thanks to David Winters and his at the time unknown assistant Toni Basil. Teri Garr was one of the throng of frug-crazy twisters, and background session men included such soon to be celebrities as Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, not to mention jazz giants Tommy Tedesco, Hal Blaine, and others. Jack Nietzsche arranged and conducted everything and can briefly be seen on camera, looking like a Rodney Bingenheimer prototype. In fact, everyone associated with the spectacular was either well esteemed or on his or her way to the top, accounting for one really superb presentation (in B&W). Top it all off with the bonus of watching the concert a second time around with commentary from director Steve Binder and music historian Don Waller (who also provides notes in a 20-page booklet), and what more could you possibly ask? Pass by this historic moment and you're missing a seminal event in rock and roll.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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