DVD Review: The T.A.M.I. Show Collector’s Edition
Reviewed by Glenn McDonald
The case can be made that The T.A.M.I. Show is the greatest “lost” concert film of all time. Filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 29, 1964, the show features an impossible procession of rock and roll royalty. Chuck Berry. James Brown. The Beach Boys. Jan and Dean. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. The Supremes. And a little British R&B combo out of the U.K. known as the Rolling Stones.
Capitalizing on the cresting teenage rock and roll craze of the day, the T.A.M.I. Show –– an acronym for Teenage Awards Music International –– took place just a few months after the Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Rock and roll was doing what it is supposed to do –– whipping the kids into a frenzy and scaring the hell out of parents nationwide.
It’s important to bear in mind that at the time of the show, rock as a cultural institution didn’t actually exist quite yet. There were no rock magazines (Rolling Stone was still three years away), no dedicated FM rock stations and no rock documentaries. Bob Dylan hadn’t yet gone electric and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just passed, so that –– as the DVD liner notes suggest –– half the performers on the bill would have still been politely referred to as “Negroes.”
This was rock and roll in its rough-and-tumble, somewhat shy, early adolescence. The bill on this particular night was historic in that it represented the remarkably broad spectrum of popular youth culture music: Girl groups and surf music; Motown and Southern rhythm and blues; and the first wave of post-Beatles British Invasion bands. The T.A.M.I. Show was one of those flashpoint moments when the kids realized –– “hey, all of this is rock and roll! And we like it!”
The T.A.M.I. Show has never before been released on home video in any format, and its arrival on DVD has been anticipated
for years. Bits and snippets have been included as part of other rock history docs, and bootleg copies of TV screenings have long been a collector’s item. The show was initially produced for theatrical release, and 2,200 prints were originally cut for the limited run.
But due to some truly arcane business and licensing snafus, The T.A.M.I. Show never achieved the broad cultural circulation it was due. In fact, after a legal dispute, the Beach Boys’ numbers were infamously ordered cut from the master and prints, but with thousands in circulation, that was easier said than done.
And so the entirety of the production has been re-compiled here, converted to high-def, and restored to its original 16:9 widescreen format. The black-and-white film transfer and mono audio have been nicely cleaned up as well, and the DVD as a whole just about bleeds authenticity.
And wow, what a show. All performances are 100 percent live, with the vocal acts backed by the famous “Wrecking Crew” band of L.A. studio musicians –– including Glen Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano. The bare-bones set – scaffolding and a few moveable platforms –– is swarmed by dancers in the peppier numbers. Look closely and you might spot a young Teri Garr, and an even younger Toni Basil –– credited as assistant choreographer.
Extras include a commentary track by director Steve Binder, with fascinating details on the technical challenges of mounting the production. Also included are the original theatrical trailers (with commentary by filmmaker John Landis), some radio spots, and an illuminating commemorative booklet with additional details on the T.A.M.I. saga.
Highlights abound, and you can skip around the DVD to check out your favorite acts first. But I suggest taking in the spectacle as a whole on first viewing. Telegenic surfer boys Jan and Dean emcee the proceedings, and it’s fun to watch them present the various acts with what is clearly genuine enthusiasm.
As you might expect, James Brown makes a point of outshining the other acts –– which he viewed more or less as competition –– and demonstrates ably why he earned the title “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”
His four-song set – “Out of Sight,” “Prisoner of Love,” Please, Please, Please,” and “Night Train” – hits hard, hard, hard. Brown insisted that his own band back the songs, and refused to rehearse with the other acts in the days leading up to the show. The Rolling Stones, scheduled to close the show, initially balked, fearing the prospect of following James Brown on any bill.
And in fact, the Stones’ set is a bit of a letdown in terms of pure wattage. Mick Jagger hadn’t yet put his frontman act into fifth gear, and the boys’ five-song set is oddly subdued, even polite.
For my money, the show’s real highlight is the Beach Boys set, with Brian Wilson hitting those impossibly pure falsetto notes while the rest of the band locks in with intricate, super-tight harmonies. This is, in fact, one of the very few documents we have of Wilson performing live with his band, before the rigors of musical genius took their toll on his psyche.
The show closes with all performers onstage for “Let’s Get Together,” and it’s here that the momentousness of the event hits home. I’m here to tell you, it will give you chills watching all these legends singing and clowning around with one another onstage, as the dancers zip past and the teenage crowd goes to DEFCON 1.
Highly recommended, The T.A.M.I. Show is a unique cultural document and a gem of a DVD, lovingly restored and nicely packaged. Ambitious types may want to consider planning a retro beach party event around screening the film for family and friends. Good, clean American fun.
The T.A.M.I. Show Collector’s Edition
running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes