Live At The Apollo Volume II

James Brown

Polydor, 1968

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


The cultural gap between James Brown’s landmark 1963’s album Live At The Apollo and the 1968 companion Live At The Apollo Volume II was filled with assassinations, riots and unrest. Live At The Apollo Volume II was released around the same time as James Brown’s cultural-defining anthem “Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud.”

You won’t get a good indication of the seismic shifts in American culture by listening to Live At The Apollo Volume II. However, the general chaos of 1968 can be heard here; for one thing, instead of the tight, under-35-minutes perfection of Live At The Apollo, 1968’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Volume II surpasses 70 minutes.

And while 1963’s Live At The Apollo may be perfection, Volume II, as the advertising says in the liner notes replica of the album cover, is “Two Big Albums In One.” “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” clocks in at just under 20 minutes. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” zips in at under 20 seconds before “Please, Please, Please” comes in. Hyper-sexy jams “Cold Sweat” and “Let Yourself Go” are like odd couple neighbors to melodramatic and conservative covers of “That’s Life” and “I Wanna Be Around.” In other words, Volume II is a mess, but what a beautiful mess it is.

Even with the too-lengthy jams and slightly corny rendition of “That’s Life,” James Brown’s band somehow makes it come together. The reason, of course, was James Brown’s relentless perfectionism. The “stop and go” movements of “Let Yourself Go” and “Try Me” are a marvel to hear in their studio forms, but played live, they take on another form entirely.

The inclusion of audience noise in live albums is usually an excuse for self-indulgence. And sometimes the audience noise in Volume II makes it difficult to appreciate the musicianship of Brown’s band. But the screams and shrieks are essential to the live album experience of both Volume I and II because it showcases how James Brown was able to utterly work an audience into a frenzy. In “It’s A Man’s Man’s World,” Brown uses lengthy pauses to slowly build a mood, then he lets out one of his trademark screams as a climactic release.

If you were going on essential purchases, the 1963 release of Live at the Apollo is a better album. Of course, there should be enough room in anyone’s record collection to fit both of these albums, along with 1991’s boxed set Star Time. From hip-hop’s beats to punk rock’s often-praised work ethic, James Brown’s influence is incalculable. His live performances at the Apollo captured him at the peak of his untouchability.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polydor, and is used for informational purposes only.