"Live At The Apollo"
1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die + 1001 Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die
Great live albums pick up the elements that studio records can't. One of the joys on a live record is that artists aren't afraid to branch out. The four-minute single "Whipping Post" by the Allman Brothers gains 23 extra minutes, all of which are thrilling to fans. Great artists play great live. One thing musicians excel less at is stage banter, that awkward moment of chatter when guitars are switched and setlists examined. An example that stands out in my mind is Nirvana's "Unplugged" album. The musical performance is enthralling but Kurt Cobain delivers detached mumbling and fans laugh awkwardly. Other albums remove the 'tween-track. James Brown didn't have a lot of money for editing when he recorded the legendary "Live At The Apollo" in 1962, so he blew off addressing the crowd, and barreled through a half-hour of magic like a boxing match without rounds.
Anyone with a basic knowledge of Brown would expect the appeal in "Apollo" to be his howling and hyperactivity. There's a few squawks, but listeners need to read the "sex machine's" stage persona from the crowd's reactions. So many live albums phase out fan participation, which is a callous move. The crowd shrieks as Brown enters of course, but the audible catcalls from the audience make his performance seem like a one-on-one conversation with any given woman in the audience. During "I Don't Mind," Brown declares "I know you're going to miss me," to which one woman says in an even tone "I sure do baby."
The first four tracks are condensed into less than nine minutes, but Brown takes his time for "Lost Someone." The lyrical jam laments a lost lover, packaged with pleas for forgiveness. Again, every woman takes it personally. In an era where commenters on fan sites declare what they'd let Justin Bieber do to them, it's refreshing to hear one bold fan shout "James, you're an asshole" as he details his misdoings. Critical commentary continues during the next track, where Brown condenses eight singles into less than seven minutes. "Pick a song!" commands a fan, this time male.
Calling this a half-hour performance is a stretch. Two minutes are the emcee introducing Brown. During the moments where other artists might thank the crowd or say hello, Brown's band (The Famous Flames) tear through 20-second intermission bits. Brown gives his love to Harlem during the closer, "Night Train," by repeating New York City during his list of tour dates. Much of it was probably his budget (he financed the recording out of pocket), but Brown wasn't one to fake schmooze. As mentioned before, his fans seemed to connect to the singer on a personal level through his lyrics. Why ruin that with boring conversation? Brown recognized that building a fervor takes time and there was no way he was going to kill his momentum.
INTERESTING FACT: Brown put record pressers in a pickle by featuring his longest song after five brief tracks. As a result, "Lost Someone" begins on Side A and ends on Side B, a rarity for LPs.