Tower of Power

January 5, 2014
Coach House
San Juan Capistrano, CA

Review by Junkman
Photo by Kimberly Annette

A new year and another show. A full house on a Sunday night. For many, like me, it's a great thing to see. For musicians, it's just what they do. And for a band like Tower of Power, they have been, to paraphrase one of their songs, "Doin' it, doin' it, doin' it the East Bay way" for over 46 years. By "doin' it," I mean giving a rousing, 90-minute show, in their own style of horn-driven funk, to a crowd that loves every minute of it, and screams for more.

I have been a fan of this band for many years, and seen them many times. Their performances are always sure to do a few things. For one, they ALWAYS put on a great show, regardless of changes in attitudes, venues, or personnel. Just as importantly, strange as it may be to this writer, I find myself compelled, uncontrollably, to bust out my best dance moves! You cannot sit still at a Tower of Power show.

The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California, is a "supper club," meaning dinner is served to patrons seated at long tables, perfect for viewing a show. There have been plenty of them at this Southern California institution in the last 40 years or so. It’s not exactly conducive to dancing, but a great place to see live acts in a comfortable setting. I have been there many times, and have nothing but fond memories.

That being said, at around 8:30 PM, the house lights dimmed, and out came Tower of Power, all ten members. Opening with "We Came To Play," the title track of their eighth LP from 1978. What a perfect song to open a show! All eyes were on the newest member of the band, in one of his first shows as new lead singer, an outstanding talent by the name of Ray Green, who looked resplendent in a bright red blazer.

A ball of energy from the get-go, and a very powerful, soulful voice, Green kept up the standards of past TOP vocalists, and brought them to the forefront. "You Ought To Be Havin' Fun," another great song title, sets the sets tone and is really an anthem for TOP. They are having a good time on stage and it shows. TOP co-founders Emilio Castillo on tenor saxophone and Steven "Doc" Kupka on baritone sax are still smiling, dancing, and just as energetic, after all these years together. Longtime drummer David Garibaldi is a virtual machine behind his kit, laying down a killer groove. Again, my feet are moving throughout the show, uncontrollably, and he is the main reason. “You Strike My Main Nerve" from 1972's Bump City LP does just that. Apparently it worked for many others in the crowd as well, as scattered patches of dancers, just could not sit down, much to the delight of the band.

And just like that, it was time to slow things down; as Ray Green said, "Time for a slow, soul ballad to sing to the ladies." and the band busted out a stirring version of "Just When We Start Makin' It" from TOP's 1974 LP Back To Oakland. I had not heard this song in years, and it featured not only Ray Green's torchy vocals, but a smooth solo by keyboardist Roger Smith on the Hammond B-3. Again, patches of slow dancing couples popped up at various points among the seated crowd.

Then again, the tempo picked up and stayed that way, as the band tore through a history of hits like "I Like Your Style" and "So I Got To Groove" from 1997’s Rhythm & Business. During the song, Green yelled out "Star Time," a homage to the late James Brown, and the entire horn section — Castillo, Kupka, lead tenor sax player Tom Politzer, and trumpeters Sal Cracchiolo, and Adolfo Acosta — busted out their best "boogaloo" dance moves. Just a warm-up of sorts it seems, and a lead in to Castillo addressing the crowd and saying that "for almost 50 years, one thing has not changed"... as the crowd, on cue knowing what to say, acknowledged "I Still Be Diggin' On James Brown." And the band tore in to a smokin' version of that song from 1995's TOP Souled Out release, complete with snippets of James Brown songs, punctuated by guitarist Jerry Cortez's rhythmic guitar breaks. The only thing missing was the late James Brown himself, although the band, especially Green, more than made up for that. TOP then toned it down with the lovely "So Very Hard To Go" featuring the trumpets, especially Adolfo Acosta, whose solo really made the song. As always, the entire horn section had their patented choreographed hand gestures and moves throughout, just as they have been doing since the song was released in 1973.

Missing tonight, and on the tour apparently, was bassist Francis "Rocco" Prestia, who because of medical reasons (he's waiting for a kidney transplant) has had to sit out the tour, and been replaced by bassist Raymond McKinley, who did a great job. And as the band tore into its signature tune "What Is Hip?." It was McKinley's funky bass lines that led the charge and drove this "funkiest of funk grooves," which had me, and, by now, the entire crowd, dancing and singing along. It was infectious.

The band left the stage to a huge applause, thanked everyone, and minutes later, returned to encore with the 1972 hit "You're Still A Young Man." Fittingly, during the line in the song "down on my knees," the entire horn section (with the exception of Kupka) knelt to one knee, as they always have. I guess after 46 years, Kupka doesn't want to take the chance of getting hurt! Can you blame him? Again, a great song, Green nailed the vocals, along with the backing harmony accompaniment. Acosta and Cracchiolo nailed the trumpet solos and Tom Politzer shredded on sax. Finishing the set with "Souled Out," the crowd ate it up. By now, no one was sitting down at the "souled out" show. Everywhere people were dancing, singing, and having an all-out good time, as it should be. It is almost unheard of for a band to be commanding this kind of response after 46 years, but Tower Of Power continues to do just that, and probably will for quite some time, one would hope.

After wrapping it up to a huge applause, Castillo told the crowd that the entire band would be appearing at a table, stage left, after the show, and would love to speak to everyone, and autograph every thing. Again, a great tribute from a great band to their fans. No "Rock Star Attitude," just genuinely nice guys who appreciate their audience and want to give something back. That's, after all, the way it should be. I guess you could call that "Doin' it the East Bay Way."

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