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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

August 22, 2008
RATING: 8/10
By the end of his tenure on earth, James Brown, rightly known as the Godfather of Soul, had become a mere caricature of his former self. Years of well-publicized substance abuse, physical abusiveness, and changing musical tastes had marginalized a king into, at best, a jester. The shaking, stoned, bespectacled oaf seen in the popular viral video clip [link] seems to have nothing in common with The Man featured in Shout! Factory's new three-disc DVD box set, I've Got The Feelin': James Brown in the 60s. It may seem unbelievable now, but during the late 1960s, and early 1970s, James Brown was arguably the most powerful black man in America. The I've Got The Feelin' box, which serves up over five hours of hard evidence testifying to Brown's intelligence, his power and his talent, should quell any doubters.

Whatever the media made him out to be in his later years, in his prime James Brown was brilliant. Beneath the flash, behind the smile and under the pompadour, the man knew what was happening, socially and politically, and could wax intellectual with anyone, from politicians to the man on the street. In the first disc of the set, a director's cut of the documentary The Night James Brown Saved Boston, viewers are reminded that the soul singer disagreed with the doctrine of pacifism preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet despite their differences - Brown's more nuanced, militant philosophy did not agree with the Civil Rights icon's concept of "turning the other cheek" - Brown could clearly see the positive effect that King was having on race relations in the United States, and called MLK "America's Best Friend." In predominantly black areas throughout the country King's assassination, on April 4th, 1968, caused what can only be described as mass hysteria. Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, along with many other smaller cities, rioted. When Lyndon Johnson awoke on the morning of April 5th to the sight of smoke from the D.C. riots drifting across the White House lawn, he declared a state of emergency, mobilizing The National Guard and going on television to plead for peace.

Along with interviews with James Brown himself, director David Leaf's documentary allows the notable scholar Cornel West, as well as Brown's friends and associates like the Reverend Al Sharpton, to talk about the Brown they knew, both illustrating the racial tension of the situation and setting the scene for Brown's historical Boston show. The footage from the April 5th concert, which was broadcast on PBS in an attempt to keep black Bostonians off the street and thus preventing riots, highlights not only the tension but also the way Brown used his words and body to diffuse it. With an instinctive knowledge of how to play politics and race, Brown gave a speech before the show that was eloquent, moving, and complimentary to Boston's black city council members, the city's mayor, and to the fallen MLK. In an effort to shine a light of hope in one of America's darkest moments, Brown, having gone from shining shoes in front of a radio station as a child to owning the station as an adult, highlighted the fruits of his own hard work, then gracefully segued into song and kicked off the show.

Between his primal screams and his frenetic dancing, Brown soothed the Boston audience with a mix of up-tempo dance numbers interlaced with his sexy soul ballads of passionate love and romance. Boston remained quiet and crime-free that evening, and the film's narrator notes that for several days thereafter Brown flew to city after city, working tirelessly to calm tensions nationally. A short time later James Brown's name was read into the US Congressional record for helping to end the post-assassination mayhem; he went on to be courted by Presidential candidates and founded his own non-profit educational organization. Viewers come away from the documentary with a sense that James Brown may well have been a political genius as well as a musical one.



I've Got The Feelin's second disc, called James Brown: Live At The Boston Garden, is the complete April 5th concert at Boston Garden, as it was filmed and broadcast. After initially attempting to cancel the show, the city's mayor, Kevin White, decided to "co-sponsor" the event by broadcasting it on public television, in hopes of giving people a reason to stay home and off the streets. Hearing of the free PBS broadcast many ticket holders demanded refunds; Brown stood to loose $50,000 in ticket sales and was also heading into a venue that could turn into a riot without warning. After demanding and receiving payment for the night, Brown proceeded to play a perfect, meticulously orchestrated show.

The versions of "Cold Sweat" and "I Feel Good" he performed at Boston Garden may have been the best of James Brown's career. The loneliness and pleas of "Try Me" seem to channel all the hurt in the room. During the 90-minute set, there was only one minor flare-up, when kids jumped on the stage and police tried to push them off. Brown stood his ground, faced down the police, and calmly settled things himself by dressing down the audience for interrupting the show and acting poorly. Crisis averted, the Godfather of Soul proceeded to restart "I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)," closing the night to cheers and screams. Brown understood that whatever his personal politics may have been, his public persona during the crisis needed to be moderate and conciliatory. The show was such a shining success that it was rebroadcast throughout the night; due almost exclusively to the brilliance of James Brown, Boston was one of the only major cities in the country that escaped the riots. Mostly because the show was broadcast on a whim and therefore occasionally cuts out due to technical issues, the footage of Live At The Boston Garden is shoddy compared to the rest of the box-set, but is extremely powerful in its own right.

The last disc in the set, James Brown Live In The '60s, is centered around another television broadcast, Man To Man, here called James Brown Live At The Apollo '68. The performance is, simply put, an amazing document of an unbelievably talented artist. In sharp contrast to the improvised broadcast from Boston, Live At The Apollo is presented in color and affords the audience a much more intimate experience; "It's A Man's World" is almost entirely footage of Brown's face and it is a mesmerizing, passionate performance. His vocals, his dancing and his band leadership were all in top form in Harlem, and we see how a dip of the shoulder is a cue to his drummer, and how by playing air guitar for a few seconds Brown prompts the guitarists to play louder. On stage Brown wasn't simply dancing and singing, he was conducting his orchestra. It is worth mentioning that as an extra feature the set's third disc also includes a performance of "Out Of Sight," from Brown's appearance at the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show concert in California. Brown's dancing in this performance - at one point he's seen shimmying halfway across the stage on one foot - is mind-boggling. With both Live At The Apollo and the T.A.M.I. Show footage, the set's third disc puts the full width and breadth of James Brown's stage talents on display more so than the first two, and in turn only adds to the legend of the man.

If you are a fan of soul music, Civil Rights-era politics or American history, I've Got The Feelin' should be considered required viewing. The performances captured here are incredible, and the collection is definitely a musical and visual gem. This is certainly a fitting swansong for a performer who embodied intelligence, power and talent like few others before or since.

TRAILER: Windows | Quicktime

SEE ALSO: www.rockhall.com/inductee/james-brown
SEE ALSO: www.shoutfactory.com

--
Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.

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