The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)

Genres - Film, TV & Radio, Music  |   Sub-Genres - Concerts  |   Release Date - Dec 29, 1964 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

Justifiably legendary among fans of vintage rock & roll, The T.A.M.I. Show is one of the first (and still one of the best) examples of a music movie that gets it almost exactly right. There's no story to get in the way of the music, no lip-synching to records, no silly sets and almost no comic relief -- The T.A.M.I. Show simply offers a dozen good to truly amazing acts showing what they can do in front of a wildly enthusiastic audience, and there aren't many films that do a better job of catching the electricity of a live show and preserving it on film. Steve Binder's direction essentially follows the format of a live television broadcast, but one done with skill and a fan's appreciation of the dynamics of a great performance; the editing subtly captures the rhythm and balance of a performance, and he knows when to pull in for a close up and when to pull back and show a group in full. And it helps that most of these acts are well worth watching, and pull off the live performances with élan (and without re-shoots or overdubs). Chuck Berry's set is a bit sedate by his standards (no duck walk or other stagecraft), but his set crackles with energy, and he's an admirably good sport about having to trade numbers with Gerry and the Pacemakers (who pale in comparison to Berry but sound a good bit livelier than they did on their singles). Smokey Robinson and the Miracles are in great form here, tight and passionate, and Robinson is a truly impressive front man -- has anyone looked cooler taking off their jacket? Marvin Gaye is a bit more relaxed by comparison, but he's in fine voice and has charisma to spare; when he smiles, he looks as if he could own the entire world. Leslie Gore is one of the most polished acts in the film, working the crowd like a seasoned pro at the age of 18, and her vocal work is great even as one marvels at how much hairspray it must have taken to hold those curls in place. Jan & Dean hosted the show as well as singing a couple numbers, and if they come off as the jokers in the pack, they seem fully aware of it and have a good time goofing on two of their biggest hits. The Beach Boys's performance was shot only a few months before Brian Wilson quit touring with the band, and if their stage act lacks the polish of Wilson's meticulous studio creations, they could do those harmonies just fine in front of an audience, Wilson's falsetto lead on "Surfer Girl" is thrilling, and they're a great, scrappy band, with Dennis Wilson pounding the drums like his life depended on it. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas are frankly the least exciting act in the film, with Kramer seeming a bit stiff and awkward on stage, but he sings just fine and the group plays their hits with crowd pleasing professionalism. The Supremes were fairly early into their cycle of hits here (notice that Diana Ross had not yet attached her name to the group's title) and they would get more impressive with time, but they already knew how to play to the audience, and if it's obvious that Ross loves the camera, it's just as obvious the camera loves her right back. The Barbarians get just one song, but they rock out hard on "Hey, Little Bird," and hook-handed drummer Moulty is a trip. You can't say enough about James Brown's set in this film -- quite simply, it's one of the most exciting filmed performances of the rock era, and from the moment Brown and his band take the stage, they explode like a string of firecrackers until they tear the house down with a phenomenal version of "Night Train" that features Brown demonstrating some dance moves that all but defy the laws of physics. And The Rolling Stones had the extreme poor fortune of having to follow Brown, and it's high praise to say under the circumstances they don't embarrass themselves; they were a few years away from having any business calling themselves the world's greatest rock & roll band, but they have attitude and personality to spare, Brian Jones and Keith Richards were a brilliant guitar team, and Charlie Watts was and is one of the best rock drummers to ever come out of England. Even during the very occasional lulls, The T.A.M.I. Show captures the pace and the feel of a good live show, and the best moments are phenomenal; decades after the fact, it's hard not to marvel at the amount of talent that blazes through this picture, and it's still a joy to watch all these years later as they're given the time and the courtesy to do what they do best.