Even Tina Turner Can't Help The Big T.N.T. Show Eclipse the T.A.M.I. Shadow

Tina Turner's volcanic performance is clearly the highlight of "The Big T.N.T. Show."
Tina Turner's volcanic performance is clearly the highlight of "The Big T.N.T. Show."
Screen shot courtesy of Shout! Factory

The Big T.N.T. Show
Shout! Factory, 93 mins, $14.98 DVD

One of the most celebrated concert films of all time — and deservedly so — is 1964’s The T.A.M.I. Show. Filmed (and performed) live in front of an energetic, mostly teenage audience, the once-in-a-lifetime bill caught the greats of the day at or near the peak of their powers: Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, and Gerry and the Pacemakers. A little further down that impressive bill came Jan and Dean, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and garage-rockers The Barbarians.

That film is best remembered, of course, for the incendiary, career-making performance of James Brown and the Famous Flames. His performance was so incredible that rock history notes the show’s “closers” — a certain Rolling Stones — were petrified to follow.

The T.A.M.I. Show made its first official DVD appearance awhile back, and now comes the DVD of its 1966 “sequel.” Both films had the same concept and format and some of the same team. Unfortunately, even taken completely on its own, T.N.T. is overall a disappointment, saddled with lower star wattage, lesser material and an odd juxtaposition of acts that doesn’t translate well to the screen. The sometimes bored-looking audience doesn't help much, either.

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The main culprit is that here, producers (including musical director Phil Spector) go overboard trying to incorporate the then-nascent folk-rock sound and performers into the mix. The earnest, acoustic-guitar-holding troubadours like Joan Baez and a pre-flower power (and smugly twee) Donovan stop the proceedings cold with depressive melodies and hectoring lyrics.

So viewers are treated to the euphoria of Ray Charles and his magnificent full orchestra’s take on the rousing “What’d I Say" to...Petula Clark’s lighter-than-air “Downtown.” The sweaty workout of Bo Diddley and band’s (what else?) “Bo Diddley” to…Joan Baez’s turgid “500 Miles.” And the sexy moves of the Ronettes’ cover of “Shout” to…a seemingly dropped-in-from-another-show’s suited Roger Miller (who calls his music “not quite rock, not quite folk, but…depressive jazz”)…”Dang Me?”

And in what has got to be one of the most bizarre pairings and performances ever, Joan Baez is joined by a bewigged Spector on piano warbling an utterly horrid version of one of Spector’s biggest-produced hits, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Her shrill, quavery voice is insanely ill-suited for the song of warmth and regret, and her robotic, passionless delivery would leave no question why her lover would have lost all his feeling…or hearing.

Even the Byrds never soar, with off-kilter, draggy and out-of-tune takes on “Turn! Turn! Turn!” “The Bells of Rhymney” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” In fact, of the white acts, only the Lovin’ Spoonful stands out, with the energetic and lovably goofy (thanks largely to guitarist Zal Yanovsky), jaunty “Do You Believe in Magic?” and “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.”

But outside of Charles and Diddley, this show really belongs hands down to the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Their sizzling, jumping, foot-swiveling segment crackles even after all this time, with the just-turned-77-years-old former Annie Mae Bullock in full control of their hits “A Fool in Love” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” covers of Otis Redding’s “Shake” and perhaps a nod to the star of the previous film with James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please.”

Funnily, her walk into the audience to grab the hand of a shocked white kid is the antithesis of Petula Clark’s earlier hand-grabbing of a super-long-haired dude in the front row who holds it and swings it a little too long for Clark’s obvious comfort. Sharp-eyed viewers will note said dude is actually Sky Saxon, lead singer of the Seeds (“Pushin’ Too Hard”). Frank Zappa can also be seen in the audience.

Though The Big T.N.T. Show is overall a letdown, there are a number of diamonds in this dirt pile that will leave a miner of ’60s music somewhat satisfied. But your best bet is to spring for the “collector’s edition,” which combines both T.A.M.I. and T.N.T. And — as Brother Ray sings here — let the good times roll.

The Big T.N.T. Show will be released this Friday. See shoutfactory.com for ordering information.


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