Friday, March 26, 2010

The T.A.M.I. Show

I first saw this film on TV, late night, sometime in the early 70’s. I remember thinking, "wow that was really a fun concert." I couldn’t believe the number of young musicians appearing (in 1964) who by decades end would be the biggest names in popular music. And here they were, playing in what looked like a small auditorium in front of a crowd of screaming teens. There was something uncharacteristically relaxed about the whole affair. The artists played and then announced each other, and there seemed to be a very comfortable vibe onstage. Sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s I got my first bootleg VHS tape of the show. It was horrible quality, with un-synched sound, and it seemed to be missing stuff I remembered - most notably the Beach Boys segment. Over the next 30 or so years I got many different copies of T.A.M.I. and became more and more obsessed with this wonderful film. My interest in it shifted throughout the years. Initially I was most excited by the set by a young Rolling Stones - full of piss and vinegar. Keith was such a complete bad ass playing stinging guitar parts while Mick and Brian Jones flirted with the crowd. Mick is clearly already a performing genius. Somewhere in there I became aware of James Brown’s incendiary performance. It is arguably the greatest 10 minutes of popular music ever recorded. It has everything - or I should say James has everything. His vocal power is unmatched, and he is singing in his own language, replete with screams, cries, unidentifiable words and, when he wants, sweet soul crooning. But the real revelation is his physical presence. After watching this video of James Brown at his peak, you can only marvel at how Michael Jackson learned EVERYTHING from James Brown. He is the most physical, powerful, energetic and magnetic performer ever. You can’t even take in all his movements, he is so blinding. And confidence - there has never been a performer who looked more like he belonged on stage than James Brown. Throughout the years, I would bring music fans to my house, and when I had discerned that they might appreciate it, I would put on James from T.A.M.I. and watch as their jaw hit the floor. Now, it is finally out legitimately, in way better quality than ever before, and, once again, it is a complete revelation.

The Stones and James Brown remain as incredible as ever, but now my focus has shifted to some of the other performers. Chuck Berry opens the show and is magic to watch at this young age. His moves are classic and he is absolutely the textbook of rock and roll riffs. This is obvious as throughout the show we see other groups like The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean completely rip him off. The Motown contingent is also in full effect with an incredibly handsome Marvin Gaye knocking it out of the park and the Supremes showing off why Diana Ross would become one of the biggest stars in the world during the next decade. Surprisingly, Leslie Gore is something of an eye-opener too. She looks fab with her flip haircut but really knocked me out with her strong, confident vocals. It made me reevaluate my appreciation of her. The other huge revelation of this set is the previously missing set by The Beach Boys. It is very fun and enjoyable until Brian Wilson steps to the mike to deliver an absolutely devastating version of “Surfer Girl.” His falsetto is heartbreaking, and the knowledge of what would happen to the poor guy later in life makes this an extremely poignant performance.

The final revelation of this wonderful movie is the audience. I sat there and literally teared up as I watched all those teenage girls screaming at the top of their lungs. SHIT, this used to be really fun and life affirming. It is a million miles away from what music has become. If you are a baby boomer watching this audience, you will remember the thrill of what drew you to rock music in the first place. If you are younger, it will show you why baby boomers mistakenly thought they created the universe. There is such excitement and vitality in the performances and the audience’s reaction it seems like it had to be made up. It couldn’t be real. It is - it really is.
Paul Epstein

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