http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/2eb09dd95c758b2a2e79becc8b624948466578fc.jpg Live At The Apollo

James Brown

Live At The Apollo

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June 30, 2008

Soul music wasn't exactly born on October 24th, 1962, but on that day it took a great leap to becoming the dominant form of African-American popular song. For it was on that autumn Wednesday in New York that organist and compere Fats Gonder asked the Apollo Theater throng if it was "ready for star time," the star being his boss, "the hardest-working man in show business." R&B singer, songwriter and bandleader James Brown then proceeded to render a performance that shook the walls of the famed Harlem music hall. And thanks to Brown's insistence on financing the recording of that show for release, against the doubts of King Records head Syd Nathan, we can all bear witness to an entertainer at the height of his powers — captured so vividly you can almost see him sweat — on what many people still consider the greatest live album ever. (Brown was further vindicated when the LP peaked at Number Two.)The James Brown of Live at the Apollo was an ace balladeer years removed from inventing funk, but what Mr. Dynamite did deliver to the famously tough Apollo fans was a relentless, driven set steeped in the church, the cotton field and the juke joint, pushing his waistband-tight musicians like a drill sergeant. Gospel-soaked vamps such as "Try Me," "I Don't Mind" and the ten-minute-plus showstopper "Lost Someone" are testaments to Brown's ability to wrap sexuality in the Lord's cloak. And on a cover of the "5" Royales' "Think," he jacks up the bpm to speedcore rate and dares the band to keep pace. By the time the fading notes of "Night Train" allow the spent Brown passage offstage, he has transformed a Wednesday into Saturday night and Sunday morning.

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