The subtitle of this set is slightly inaccurate as almost all the content focuses on the year 1968, two of the DVDs specifically dealing with his concert at the Boston Garden the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, but that doesn’t make the content any less compelling.
Disc 1 features the television documentary The Night James Brown Saved Boston, which aired on VH-1 on April 5, 2008, the 40th anniversary of the event. Cynics scoff at musicians who try to save the world with their songs, but many involved in the concert’s planning and those who were there at the time give credit to Brown for keeping the city safe from the inner-city rioting that was taking place across the United States in the aftermath of the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination.
White America was scared of what was happening, and Mayor Kevin H. White wanted to cancel the concert because the police couldn’t guarantee safety. African-American councilman Tom Atkins said that was a terrible idea because that plan could very well be the cause of a riot. In an effort to keep people off the streets, the mayor approached the local public television station to televise it live to keep people at home. People began returning tickets, which got back to Brown who was not informed of anything that was happening in Boston. All he knew was he was losing money, so he threatened to pull out unless he was guaranteed $60,000.
The details were worked out, although there’s disagreement about whether the full amount was paid, and the show went on, portions of which appear throughout, but towards the end things began to get out of control and had the chance to turn dangerous. Young African-Americans began to get on stage. Cops, mostly white, shoved people back into the audience, but Brown said he could handle it. Yet the fans kept coming. Finally, Brown stopped the show and chastised the revelers, asking for respect, not only for himself but for themselves. They finally listened and let him finish the show, which was immediately rebroadcast.
After the concert, the documentary deals with Brown’s rise as a leading figure for Black Americans, not necessarily as a political figure but through his music. He wrote songs like “Soul Power” and “(Say It Loud) I’m Black and I’m Proud.” He spoke out on issues when given the chance, yet he did what he believed. The Left turned on him when he went to entertain troops in Vietnam and later supported Nixon re-elected.
The documentary was well structured, mixing archival footage with modern-day interviews with Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Cornel West, Mayor White, Councilman Atkins, band members, concert attendees, and the television producers who helped provide context. Sharpton made the most interesting point about Brown’s music when he said that many black artists crossed over to white America, but Brown brought white America to black music. The archive material was a tad startling at times because “negro” was so commonly used and caught me off guard. Special features include additional interview footage and a panel with the filmmakers at the Boston premiere.
Disc 2 offers the concert in its entirety. Brown and the band deliver an awesome performance, playing hits like “It’s a Man's Man's Man's World,” “Please, Please, Please,” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” The video is in black and white, and a couple of segments are missing but the entire radio simulcast captured it all.
Disc 3 presents “James Brown Live At The Apollo ’68.” Recorded in March of that year in color, it was shown on television as Man To Man. With the inclusion of the song “If I Ruled The World,” it is the same exact set as the Boston Garden show. There is a filmed segment for the television broadcast that shows Brown walking around Watts and Harlem, offering his thoughts on the conditions of the cities and its inhabitants.
The extras are what make the disc stand out and worth viewing. James Brown’s performance from The T.A.M.I. Show is an amazing spectacle. He dances up a storm and drives the crowd into a frenzy that is palpable through the screen and the ages. It’s not one of Brown’s biggest hits, but this clip is the one for the vaults.