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New DVD highlights a classic concert

John DeFore
James Brown redefines showmanship in 'T.A.M.I. Show,' filmed at a classic 1964 concert. Just wait until they bring out the cape.

Back before Sting became a bearded lute player who brags about his tantric stamina, the former Police front man was, for listeners at the right age, the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a humanities class.

I'd never heard of "Lolita" or Scylla and Charybdis until encountering them in his songs. His allusion-heavy lyrics might have foreshadowed the pomposity to come, but they were also a literary road map with a beat. Still, I never got what the Spiky-Haired One was talking about, on "When the World is Running Down," when he referred to a much-played VHS tape of "James Brown and Tammy Shaw."

The name that I imagined as belonging to some obscure soul queen was actually "T.A.M.I. Show," and now music lovers in the DVD era can enjoy the same breathtaking footage that kept the hero of Sting's old song sane in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

"T.A.M.I." was an acronym referring to a whipped-together 1964 concert of rock and soul stars, staged in Santa Monica and recorded in "Electronovision," that turned out to be one of the most important music films ever made — one finally available on DVD from Shout Factory. Hosted by the dorky surf duo Jan & Dean, it paired whiter-than-white acts such as the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore with black entertainers such as Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and Chuck Berry.

And then there was the hardest-working man in show business. The teeny-bopper audience shrieks at Beatlemania level throughout "T.A.M.I.," but only when James Brown comes out is there stagecraft to match their hysteria. From the way his legs moved in those tapered slacks to his soon-to-become-famous feigned-exhaustion routine, Brown hailed from a different planet than the gifted but tame performers who shared his stage. By the time the still underexposed Rolling Stones came out to follow JB, the kids were too spent to appreciate them.

Later Stones material is soon to come on DVD, with Eagle Rock planning to release the making-of doc "Stones In Exile" in June and the 1972 concert film "Ladies and Gentlemen ... The Rolling Stones" in the fall. But fans who need more mid-'60s treasure — or simply more Gerry and the Pacemakers — after watching "T.A.M.I." should check out a box set called "The British Invasion" from Voyage Digital.

Rather than being a comprehensive look at the movement, "British Invasion" is the beginning of a series that will devote single DVDs to stars associated with it. This first set offers a film about Dusty Springfield, for instance, which pairs a ton of old performance clips with good interviews. Of special interest to Austinites will be the doc on the Small Faces, starring our own Ian McLagan.

Elsewhere on new-release shelves are some music-centric feature films that should have been better than they were, lake the mammoth letdown "Nine" (Sony) and the minor disappointment "Pirate Radio" (Universal). Standing the test of time is the Ramones vehicle "Rock 'n' Roll High School" (Shout! Factory), which has already seen a few releases on DVD but now arrives on Blu-ray as well.

As always, music lovers might have to dig a while to find more obscure documentaries like "Meredith Monk: Inner Voice" (First Run Pictures) and "Tom Waits: Under the Influence" (Sexy Intellectual) hiding behind releases by Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, not to mention the still-best-selling posthumous Michael Jackson release "This Is It." But they shouldn't have to look as long as I did before finally getting to see James Brown on the "T.A.M.I. Show."