There’s no more natural double feature in the history of concert films than the pairing of these two beauties from 1964-65. The T.A.M.I. Show and The Big T.N.T. Show both follow the same format – get a huge number of popular groups and singers onto one LA stage for one massive live show, get a bunch of screaming teens to cream their jeans in front of the stage, and roll tape. The resulting films brought rock and roll to movie houses around the country, at a time when it wasn’t easy to see James Brown or Ike and Tina on television. Both of these films hold some of the best footage ever captured in that era, the solo singers backed by LA’s Wrecking Crew of studio musicians, everyone recorded and mixed beautifully; music on the latter film is produced by Phil Spector.
Much of the T.A.M.I. Show’s reputation rests on one set, a heart-stopping performance by James Brown. And yes, if you’ve never seen it, you simply must, as it is one of the most scorching pieces of concert footage ever shot. But it comes close to the end of an astounding series of sets that would have made this film a keeper even if Brown hadn’t shown up. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ group dancing take of “Micky’s Monkey” is a thing of pure joy, as is the powerhouse version of “Dance Dance Dance” by the Beach Boys. The Stones already have their patented loose-tight groove on stage, and what do you know, Keith Richards used to do dance moves when he was young! Chuck Berry is, more than anything, a good sport for inexplicably having his part of the show awkwardly intermingled with Gerry and the Pacemakers’, but even if the juxtaposition makes no sense, the music is happening, and the Pacemakers are much more lively here than on their records. Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore and the Supremes are spot on, the height of cool professionalism, and the Barbarians provide a shot of garage-rock angst. And then there’s Brown, coming in and basically just killing everybody from the moment he glides onto the stage on one foot. Jan and Dean make affable hosts, and the attendant teenagers scream their heads off. It’s a gas, and belongs on your shelf.
This edition from Shout! Factory adds the first complete home video release of its obvious sequel, The Big T.N.T. Show, shot toward the end of 1965 by an almost entirely different production team. The lineup is similarly star-studded, but it’s not quite the bang-bang shoot-em-up that the T.A.M.I. Show was. In place of Jan & Dean, the host is actor David McCallum, who conducts the house band through a corny instrumental arrangement of “Satisfaction” that I’m told was a number-one hit – hey man, it was the sixties. And the emergence of folk rock as a major concern means a good deal of screen time given to acts more prone to quiet, lovely poetry than zazzed-up rock and roll.
The editors choose to spend a lot of time on audience shots, which sometimes don’t mesh with the soundtrack, showing row after row of blank, staring faces while you can hear an army of girls screaming its collective head off. By now, “screaming chicks” is an expected part of the program, even if Roger Miller is on the stage singing “King Of The Road”. They scream through Petula Clark, and only slightly less through Joan Baez and Donovan.
The overuse of the screaming-chicks soundtrack during moments of low-key action on stage makes me think about the Banality of Pandemonium. It’s easy to assume Spector just mixed in the sound of screaming chicks in post-production, but we don’t really know that. Maybe the director told the girls up front to keep screaming no matter what and fed them lots of sody pop to keep them alert and hydrated, and it’s only the kids in the back sitting there looking bored. Maybe there was a gaggle of girls that REALLY FELT the urge to scream at Roger Miller, from deep in the gut. Maybe that’s just the way it went down in the sixties. Crazy, man, crazy.
I feel like a folkie myself, now, wanting to interrogate the screamers – “Did you really mean it, when you screamed? Was that scream a lie?”
There is one audience shot that really resonates though: a memorable closeup of four young women looking purposefully at Joan Baez, singing “500 Miles” back to her. I hope those four women started a folk-rock band together, and I hope they changed the world.
And even if the overall voltage level is down a notch or two, there are plenty of performances here that rise to the level of T.A.M.I. Show. The Byrds are glowing, shimmering perfection on “Bells Of Rhymney”, “Turn Turn Turn” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The Ronettes are as boss as you’d want them to be. Ray Charles blows everyone away like he always did. The Ike and Tine Turner Revue are a furnace blast of heat. Even Roger Miller is charming as he bops through “England Swings” with go-go girls doing this their little bobby dance around him.
And the folkies themselves aren’t bad, inappropriate screaming chicks notwithstanding. Baez is a striking figure, and shows she’s not afraid to break tradition by belting out “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” with Phil Spector at the piano. Donovan, seen before any of his major hits, is still in “British Dylan” mode singing Buffy St. Marie’s “Universal Soldier” to an audience now facing the draft.
But the one set I’ll end up watching a million times from this film is Bo Diddley’s. Despite a strange sound mix where the guitar just takes over the world– maybe the result of his wall of speakers, the first time I can remember seeing this as a visual effect – he brings a whiff of true, authentic menace to a very showbiz kind of show. He’s the one to scream for here.