T.A.M.I. Show/The Big T.N.T. Show: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray Review)12 Dec, 2016 By: Mike Clark
Shout! Factory released T.A.M.I. Show on DVD in 2010, ending years of this concert classic’s near-miss status when it came to a home release (distributor First Look even sent out press screeners at one point before some rug got pulled). And this followed several additional years of relatively few revival theater showings due in part to a performance rights hassle — hugely anticipated look-backs that almost always ended in disappointed audiences due to the fact that the Beach Boys were fairly quick to demand the lifting of its essential footage from all prints after the original first-run engagements.
Among other things, the excision severely burned the repertory programmers who scheduled T.A.M.I. (whose title stood for Teenage America Music International) — a debacle I experienced all too well first-hand. After playing a complete print at the Kennedy Center-located AFI Theater in 1976, I got torched not too many years later when probably the only existing 35mm copy available for public distribution arrived not long before the showing with the BB footage gone. There’s nothing like having some stranger corner you in the lobby at midnight immediately post-showing to tell you that you ruined his day because he drove all the way to Washington, D.C., from Baltimore specifically to see the Boys. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to seek a new profession.
As lore has it, this was similar to the reaction that Mick, Keith and the rest had when T.A.M.I. concert producer Bill Sargent mandated that the Rolling Stones follow James Brown on stage — this the same year that Dean Martin dissed the group (hilariously or not) on ABC’s “The Hollywood Palace.” Both for their professional sake and his ego, it was cheekiness no ’64 group outside of the Beatles should have ever dared to do because any performance by the hardest-working man in show business (perhaps outside of Brown’s dry cleaner) always left a big crater in the floor. In actuality, the Stones give it their all here and come close to breaking even with Brown’s sweaty marathon under impossible circumstances, though (again), one senses that had Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips had established itself by this time, the dejected lads might have been tempted to bag music and spring for a franchise. Imagine having been able to ask for extra tartar sauce from Brian Jones, who was still around at the time and is captured here in eternal Electronovision glory.
This last was an early video process that converted the footage to film — and I’m talking about T.A.M.I. again (which I reviewed here when the DVD came out) because I’m pleasantly surprised that the Blu-ray presentation here does look slightly more vital, despite the source limitations. Boomers with lots of gray hair may recall that Sargent and Electronovision had previously been utilized for nationwide movie-house showings of Richard Burton’s Hamlet, which resulted in school field trips (though at the time, I wanted to major in Liz Taylor). Sargent was a real character, and I’ll never forget the time he phoned me at the Detroit Free Press in 1979 after he tried to palm off a near-replicate release of Richard Pryor in Concert as a new performance following the initial version’s success (“People say it’s the same,” he said, “but in one he’s wearing a wristwatch and in the other, he isn’t”). Sargent was always in money trouble — he had to sell off his share of T.A.M.I. — and it probably didn’t help that Chuck Berry demanded his performance salary (cash or money order) before he’d go on stage to open the show. Somehow, Sargent came up with the money. Somehow.
Chuck had only recently gotten out of the slammer on a morals charge, which means that even more than usual, he probably enjoyed what used to be called the “bevy of bikinis” tentatively covering the dancers who gyrated go-go fashion on a simple scaffold above him. Director Steve Binder (later of the Elvis Comeback Special) had a lot to work with here beyond Brown, the Stones and the Beach Boys in memorable striped shirts: that is, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Lesley Gore, another bevy (this time of more British Invasion acts) and more. But though the staging isn’t fussy, it really works, and Binder’s camera is always where your eye wants to go. Whether due to Binder’s insistence or the fact that many of these acts weren’t yet as big or veto-happy as they’d become, it was agreed that the backup dancers could freely “get into the space” of Gaye and others, particularly in the case of Gaye’s Hitch-Hike number (as unforgettable here as his white tux). These choreographed boppers include Teri Garr (who goes by so fast that she’s tough to spot) and some flamboyant guy who looks as if he could be Dwight Frye’s roomie at “the home.”
T.A.M.I. came out in late 1964, while its follow-up — The Big T.N.T. Show — hit theaters much less auspiciously in January 1966. In lieu of the essential Steve Binder, we get the unexciting Larry Peerce (later of Goodbye, Columbus, which at least had box office and Ali MacGraw as a shower mate going for it). This half of a nicely conceived twofer is its home market premiere and thus welcome, particularly since T.N.T.‘s rare TV showings have been unletterboxed, which undercut even the raw performances. By the time of its release, folk and folk rock had become more mainstream, which means that the act selection has a hodgepodge dimension that no one can lick.
This said, you’d be able to dine out forever if you’d actually gotten to see this concert in person: Ray Charles and Petula Clark; Roger Miller and the Byrds; Ike & Tina Turner and Donovan; Bo Diddley and Joan Baez. Atop this, there’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” star David McCallum conducting — less weird than it sounds because he had much more of a professional resumé to justify this than, say, anyone from the cast of “McHale’s Navy” would have. At one point, Baez and T.N.T. producer Phil Spector sit at a piano and duet on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” — something you don’t get every century. To its credit, we should all be glad that this historical record exists. To its discredit, the staging isn’t very interesting — not that you could have gyrating dancers back Donovan, though I’d probably pay to see it — and there’s a constant whiplash effect because Peerce can’t come up with a programming rhythm when it comes to the order of the acts; their eclectic nature result in a constant whiplash effect. This is problem that likely would have beaten anyone (though let it be said that the print quality here is pretty good, and, in fact, better than T.A.M.I.’s).
T.N.T. has some solid bonus interviews, including one with a personable but unrecognizable John Sebastian (the Lovin’ Spoonful appear in the concert) because he’s now gray-haired with a short haircut. T.A.M.I. carries over the DVD’s wonderful joint commentary by Binder and rock journalist/historian Don Waller (I wish I knew as much about movies as Waller knows about music). Binder has some great production stories, though none is as funny as an aside he makes when alluding to his subsequent Elvis special. It seems that NBC had a suggestion that explains why network suits will always be suits: They wanted to use Bob Hope’s orchestra as the King’s backup group.