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Music DVD Review: The T.A.M.I. Show (Collector’s Edition)

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Originally filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on November 14, 1964, The T.A.M.I. Show was a concert featuring many of the top rock and soul acts of the day. It later became a movie (filmed in glorious "Electronovision" no less) which saw a very limited release in movie theaters.

With a lineup including everyone from The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Marvin Gaye and James Brown, this was a mega-concert long before such things even existed. Since it also disappeared just as quickly as it was there, The T.A.M.I. Show (it stands for Teenage Awards Music International) has also become a concert film long coveted by collectors.

Its legendary status comes for very good reason. Quentin Tarrantino calls The T.A.M.I. Show "in the top three of all rock movies," and Sting even sings about it in the lines "James Brown on the T.A.M. I. Show, same tape I've had for years" from The Police hit "When The World Is Running Down (You Make The Best of What's Still Around").

For the most part, the performances all live up to the hype too. But none of them touch the James Brown set that Sting is still singing about all these years later. Producer Rick Rubin — who is no stranger to some great performances himself — has called Brown's turn that day the greatest rock performance ever captured on film.

Yet, up until now The T.A.M.I. Show has remained locked up in a vault somewhere gathering dust, and only able to be seen through the many grainy bootleg copies which have circulated among collectors over the years. There has never been an official VHS or DVD release until now. Thanks to Dick Clark Productions and the folks at SHOUT Factory, The T.A.M.I. Show has finally, at long last been restored.

Despite this being a black and white film from the early sixties, the high definition transfer job here is absolutely stunning. Given the decades that this film has spent locked away somewhere, and the obviously limited technology available to the original filmmakers back in 1964, it really looks and sounds better than it has any right to. The picture is crystal clear (every drop of James Brown's sweat is visible), the surprisingly tight camera angles put you right there with the go-go girls at the center of the action, and the sound is nice and crisp.

The performances themselves are the real treat though. The house band for most of the artists (save for James Brown and the Motown acts) is the notorious L.A. "wrecking crew" that featured such future stars as Glenn Campbell and Leon Russell. But beyond the band's credentials, you get to see a very young Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross working the bi-racial crowd of mostly teenaged females to a fever pitch (producing some absolutely deafening screams throughout the film).

Diana Ross and The Supremes and even Lesley Gore turn in some great vocal performances. Previously unseen footage of the Beach Boys displays that group's impeccable vocal harmonies, even as Dennis Wilson reveals himself to be a frenetic drummer in the Keith Moon mold, and clearly the group's teen idol. It's also a lot of fun to watch the duck-walking Chuck Berry at the height of his powers doing "Maybelline" just before he became an oldies-circuit act.

If there are any weak spots here, these come from the squeaky clean Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas and the equally gruff and garagey Barbarians, who both seem a bit out of place here. Gerry And The Pacemakers are likewise not much of a highlight, although they do get into a surprisingly rocking jam with Berry.

The Rolling Stones — who were said to be nervous about having to follow James Brown — also turn in a great set here. Jagger throws in a few JB-esque moves amidst his trademark prancing and preening during "Around And Around" and an amazingly youthful looking Keith Richards (was Keef ever really that young?) looks and sounds great on guitar, especially during "Time Is On My Side" and "It's All Over Now."

But the James Brown set is the undeniable show-stopper. Brown and The Famous Flames are nothing short of electrifying. There is simply nothing else on The T.A.M.I. Show that touches it or really even comes close. Watching James Brown here is a casebook study in just where everyone from Micheal Jackson and Prince to Jagger and Springsteen got a lot of their moves from.

With his Famous Flames solidly cracking the whip behind him, James Brown rings every inch of sweat he has out of his then still nimble body, culminating in a show-stopping "Please, Please, Please" that just tears the house down. When Brown repeatedly falls to his knees, only to be helped back up each time by his "capeman" Danny Ray, it's no small wonder how he earned the title of the "hardest working man in show business."

Here's a small taste…


Now just imagine that in high definition picture and sound.

Bonus features on the DVD release include a souvenir booklet with new liner notes and photos, the trailer for the original film, as well as four original radio spots advertising the theatrical release. The T.A.M.I. Show is one of the greatest rock concert films ever made, and the restoration of it on the DVD release is nothing short of remarkable. It's a must for any serious student of rock and roll history.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl/ A Geek Girl

    I’ve always wanted to see this. I’ve heard about it a lot over the years. Thank you for reminding me of it, and for the amazon link.

    I love the work Dick Clark Productions is doing; bringing the best of the past back to life. I’ll have to check out all of their productions. Some amazing titles I’m sure.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx AGG. All’s i can say is James F’n Brown, man.

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    This sounds like a must.

    In the You Can’t Always Get What You Want book by Sam Cutler, Keith talks about following James Brown at that show. “We will never do that again,” was the gist of his quote.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I read Cutler’s book and must have skimmed past that part…too absorbed in all the dirt about Altamont I guess.

    I do know the Stones initially refused to follow James Brown though, but finally went ahead with it. You can kind of see in this film where Jagger is trying to duplicate some of JB’s moves. Its actually very funny when you watch it in that context.

    But yeah, you need to get this one Greg.

    -Glen