The Greatest

January 02, 2007

While we were gone for the holidays, James Brown passed away, and the world lost not only it's greatest entertainer, but the single most important musical figure of the 20th century (sorry, Beatles). It's hard finding the right words to even begin to talk about JB's influence, catalog, and overall superbadness, but we think his legendary 1968 Boston Garden concert is a good place to start. After the jump, read some backstory from FADER 34 about the bootleg of all bootlegs, then dig around the interweb for some footage of the night Brown saved Boston from burning - at the moment, YouTube isn't pulling much from the night in question, but we're sure there's more to come.

Can’t Stand It

A historic bootleg from 1968 documents Mr Dynamite as he keeps the peace

By Will Welch

On New York City’s St Mark’s Place, tucked amidst tattoo parlors, punks and shops that sell stuff like dog collars meant for people and t-shirts that say “TAKE ME DRUNK I’M HOME,” is legendary record store Mondo Kim’s. But legendary as Kim’s is, it’s not where you’d expect to find the Reverend Al Sharpton. Rumor has it, however, that Sharpton showed up at Kim’s earlier this year to buy a DVD called James Brown: Live At The Boston Garden, 1968.

Although 1968 was a year loaded with history, the title of the bootleg DVD doesn’t quite signify the gravity of Brown’s show at the Garden. The actual date was April 5, 1968 and Brown took the stage some 24 hours after Dr Martin Luther King Jr was shot in the head by a sniper while standing on his balcony at the Motel Lorraine in Memphis. Riots were underway in scores of US cities. The National Guard had moved into Memphis.
As the story goes, Boston Mayor Kevin White was considering canceling all public events. But an African-American city councilman met with Brown and they agreed to advise White to let the show go on, arguing that a cancellation could exacerbate the already tense situation. White agreed, and took further precaution by recruiting WGBH to televise the event in hopes of keeping Bostonians entertained at home rather than antsy, angry and congregating on the streets.

The DVD is culled from WGBH’s broadcast. Brown’s performance is sharp as knives and overwhelmingly sexy, and the mood of the night is—somehow—not overly fraught. Eventually, however, Brown invites Mayor White to the microphone. "Martin Luther King loved this city,” White promises before asking for the following pledge: “No matter what any other community might do, we in Boston will honor Dr King in peace." White’s comments, of course, inadvertently break the spell that Mr Dynamite cast and the nervous implorations refocus the collective attention on King’s tragedy rather than Brown’s electricity.

Brown continues his set, but eventually a series of teenagers attempt to climb onstage. In one harrowing shot, Fred Wesley’s trombone gleams in the lights behind a silhouette of a line of Boston police, who slowly begin to encroach upon the stage until Brown shoos them back as teens excitedly circle around him. At first he shakes hands, but then he tries to talk them down. “Let's represent our own selves!” he says. “You making me look bad. I asked the police to step back because I get respect from my own people. Are we together or are we ain't?” There is a cheer from the crowd that sounds like the responses from the call-and-response segments of Brown’s recordings, and almost immediately Brown turns to his band and snarls, “Hit this thing now!” as the kids jump offstage. He takes the band into “I Can’t Stand It”, skrawking into the mic and dancing, then the DVD abruptly cuts off mid-song.

After a run-in with police, Kim’s no longer sells bootleg DVDs, so holler at Google or a friend of a friend’s friend.

Posted: January 02, 2007
The Greatest