Monday, March 29, 2010

DVD Review: The T.A.M.I. Show

More than 40 years after its release, the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show is finally available on DVD! Filmed over two days in October 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and featuring some of the biggest acts of the era (dig the lineup on the movie poster above!), The T.A.M.I. Show is a must-have for anyone who's a fan of rock 'n' roll and soul music from the period.

Fittingly, rock pioneer Chuck Berry opens the show with "Johnny B. Goode"Johnny B. GoodJohnny B. Goode. He then does the opening verse of "Maybellene" as he turns it over to UK beat group Gerry & the Pacemakers as they do their take on the song. The two acts then continue to take turns going through some of their big hits. Although I like Gerry & the Pacemakers, I would have preferred for the director to keep their set separate from Chuck's. Still, it's better to have a little of Chuck Berry's "rock and roll music" than none at all.

To those who aren't students of mid-sixties pop music, the prominence in The T.A.M.I. Show of the aforementioned Gerry & the Pacemakers and another UK group (Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas) may have them scratching their heads. Although the two groups are a bit obscure today, in 1964 they were among the most popular acts around. The squeals and screams in the audience during their sets is a a testament to their appeal at the time this was filmed.

For me, the highlight of The T.A.M.I. Show is watching James Brown & the Famous Flames as they proceed to torch the stage with their 4-song set. After witnessing it, one will be hard pressed to argue with Rick Rubin's claim that this was "the single greatest rock and roll performance ever captured on film". Hitting every note as he displayed a dazzling series of spins, slides, and splits, James had kids who probably hadn't heard of him before in the palm of his hand (check out the audience shots during the "call and response" part of "Night Train"). There is also an audience shot of a fur coat-wearing mystery woman who is standing mesmerized during Brown's set. I wonder what (if anything) she was wearing underneath that coat.

Watching James Brown's sweat soaked performance and knowing that The Rolling Stones had to follow him, you almost feel sorry for the lads from London. Simply put, there was no way they were going to top James. Still, Mick and the boys put on an excellent show as the concert's closing act. Even though they were several months away from becoming superstars with the release of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", The Rolling Stones' set brims with confidence that is impressive.

A big part of what makes The T.A.M.I. Show work is the presence of the backup dancers. Their shimmying, shaking, and gyrating really adds to the energy of the show. Also, it's fun to see one of the dancers early in her career... a 17-year old Teri Garr! Plus, I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention one of the dancers in a two-piece bikini... damn!! Mr. Russ Meyer, she is ready for her close-up! James Brown noticed her too because during the finale when all the acts and dancers are onstage together, he zeroed right in on her.

Along with Teri Garr, watching The T.A.M.I. Show gives viewers the chance to see performers such as Diana Ross, Mick Jagger, Marvin Gaye, and Brian Wilson before they become icons. Speaking of Brian Wilson, within a couple of months of his performance with the rest of The Beach Boys on The T.A.M.I. Show, he would quit touring with the band for several years to concentrate on songwriting and producing.

Some of the other highlights:

* The Barbarians' highly-energized performance of "Hey Little Bird". If this garage-rock quartet from Cape Cod is remembered at all, it's probably because of their minor 1965 hit "Are You A Boy or Are You A Girl?" or the fact that their drummer (Victor "Moulty" Moulton) had a hook in place of his left hand. Though their presence in The T.A.M.I. Show may have some asking "who are they and why are they in the movie?", The Barbarians make the most of their brief time onstage. Special mention goes to drummer "Moulty", who is a maniac on the skins!

* The Miracles' electrifying performance of "Mickey's Monkey".

* The commentary by director Steve Binder and music historian Don Waller. The two of them do a good job of providing background info about the acts featured in The T.A.M.I. Show and Binder's memory is uncanny when it comes to recalling particular camera shots during the show. He also justifies the decision to have the Rolling Stones close the show instead of James Brown.

* The DVD trailer with optional commentary by John Landis. The future director of such films as National Lampoon's Animal House and The Blues Brothers was among the teenagers in attendance at The T.A.M.I. Show. In addition to his funny remarks about preferring James Brown to The Rolling Stones, Landis recalls that one of his schoolmates (a future teen idol of the 1970s) was also at The T.A.M.I. Show.

The T.A.M.I. Show is an exhilarating document of one of the last moments of rock and roll's era of youthful innocence and exuberance, before things got serious and the genre transformed into "rock".

My grade of The T.A.M.I. Show: A-

Below is the trailer for the DVD of The T.A.M.I. Show:


Molly said...

This was recommended to me by the Amazon Robots a few days ago. I'm a little ashamed that it was the first time I'd heard of it. Will definitely bump it toward the top of my "to watch" list based on your recommendation.

Stagg said...

My friend Big D iz gonna go ape dookie over this!!


X. Dell said...

I think Teri Garr was also a Shindig regular around that time.

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

That sounds really good. I agree, though: I like Gerry and the Pacemakers, but Chuck Berry is in a whole other league from them (and most other performers).

In Britain, I think most people still at least know the name Gerry and the Pacemakers, but I think Billy Kramer and the Dakotas are pretty much forgotten now.

Malcolm said...

Molly: Because "The T.A.M.I. Show" has never been available in its original form on VHS/DVD, there are quite a few people who weren't aware that it even existed. If you do order it, I'd be interested to hear what you think of it.

Stagg: When I found out "The T.A.M.I. Show" was coming to DVD, I felt the way your friend did. When I stumbled across it on PBS, I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that it was coming to DVD later in March... I had no idea!

X. Dell: I'm not sure if she was ever a regular dancer on "Shindig", but does list her as a go-go dancer on an episode of "Hullaballoo". I did recognize at least one of the dancers on "The T.A.M.I. Show" as a regular on "Shindig". I hope that show comes to DVD soon.

Richard: One disappointment of "The T.A.M.I. Show" is that Chuck Berry didn't do the "duck walk" or his one-legged hop. I think he probably didn't because most of the songs the artists performed were shortened versions.

While watching "The T.A.M.I. Show", I looked up Gerry and the Pacemakers on Wikipedia and learned that their version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" is a football (aka soccer) anthem to this day. That's pretty cool!

I get kinda frustrated with the way certain segments of pop culture get relegated to obscurity in the U.S. I think the average person under 30 might have a vague idea of who Gerry and the Pacemakers are, but wouldn't have a clue about Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Neither band was groundbreaking, but they were a part of the British Invasion and that makes them worth remembering. I'll climb down from my soap box now.

TP said...

This is a fantastic DVD.

Came across this other review which is also very positive:

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