May 25, 2013
Greek Theatre
Los Angeles, NY

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Kimberly Annette

Cheech & Chong, along with the legendary Tower of Power and War, officially kicked off their Up In Smoke tour before a packed house at the Greek Theatre. No wonder as this bill, locally part of Hot 92.3 Hot Summer Nights, comprises a full night of entertainment – one of the greatest comedic duos in rock n’ roll and two highly regarded, super-talented bands with magical histories. When Tommy Chong’s wife Shelby launched into her shtick about the wonders of marijuana, it became apparent the show was going to be a no–holds–barred evening of irreverence, honesty and lots of talk about pot with only hints of its scent hovering over the audience.

Shelby preceded Cheech & Chong at every interval, which began with a short Q&A, about their early career, their movies, Cheech’s movies and Chong’s time on That 70s Show and behind bars. And there were lots of questions about marijuana. The current craze for medical marijuana and initiatives for legalization have practically made Cheech & Chong figureheads for the cause. Even 75-year-old Tommy Chong had a pot leaf on his T-shirt.

Tower of Power came up soon after and got the place jumping. Although their set was only an hour-long, the 10-piece band — featuring founding members Emilio Castillo (tenor sax), Rocco Prestia (bass), Stephen Kupka (baritone sax), and David Garibaldi (drums), along with lead singer Larry Bragg, keyboardist Roger Smith, lead tenor saxophonist Tom E. Politzer, trumpeter Adolfo Acosta, trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo and guitarist Jerry Cortez — really dug in on their greatest hits, including “You Got To Funkifize,” and "You're Still A Young Man.”

Cheech & Chong “auditioned” Tower of Power for their upcoming movie by having them run through seemingly impromptu versions of “Basketball Jones” and “Me And My Old Lady.” The comics quickly exited with Cheech remarking, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Band leader Castillo mentioned that Tower of Power has been together since 1968 before falling in the funky “Diggin' On James Brown.” They finished their set with "What Is Hip?”

A cake was rolled out and everyone wished Tommy Chong a happy birthday (actually May 24). Then it was time for some of Cheech and Chong’s greatest bits, slightly modified for the times. There was “Dave’s Not Here” and “Let's Make A Dope Deal” with Wink Dinkerson and Harry Palms. A little help from War with a taste of “Low Rider” set the stage for “Paco And Man.” It isn’t often that laughter echoes within the confines of the Greek, but tonight it did without shame or regard for the establishment.

War was suddenly in the spotlight and the seven-piece band, lead by lone original member Lonnie Jordan, dazzled the crowd with a smooth set that included “Spill The Wine,” “Cisco Kid” and “All Day Music.” They were joined by Tower of Power, who entered the stage from the back row, for “Low Rider.” Cheech & Chong got into the picture with characters Blind Melon Chitlin and Alice Bowie squeezing into the musical fold. Chitlin (Chong) actually jammed some blues with War guitarist Stuart Ziff while Alice Bowie (Cheech) lip-synced to the original recording of “Earache My Eye.”

A half-hearted swing through “Born In East L.A.” quickly gave way to the evening’s rousing finish of “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” with new, personalized verses introduced by Cheech & Chong. And yes, the lyrics included a few references to marijuana.

 

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