Live review

Tower of Power at the Royal Albert Hall

Tower of Power at the Royal Albert Hall
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2019. All Rights Reserved


Tower of Power 50th Anniversary tour

(Royal Albert Hall, 30 May 2019; Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

“The actual Tower of Power Anniversary date is Aug. 13, 1968. Back then our band was called The Motowns … It’s been 50 years of great times, great songwriting, and a wonderful friendship.” Emilio Castillo, Tower of Power’s bandleader recalled the first meeting with Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka at the Alameda County Fair a few weeks earlier, when the Doc advised that their outfit ‘needed some bottom’, and his baritone sax has given ToP that vital dimension ever since! Tower of Power are touring extensively to celebrate 50 years of their impressive musicianship and staying power with several long-serving band members who’ve lost not an iota of their edge and inspirationally tight musical awareness.

They brought their 90 minute set to the Royal Albert Hall to a devoted audience of baby boomers and a whole crowd of youngsters, too, and their firebrand vocalist, Marcus Scott pumped them up to embrace them all with the sizzling Tower of Power family ethos.

The 10-piece powered through familiar mainstays with embedded calls and responses to and from the on-side audience – What is Hip?, Only So Much Oil in the Ground, You Ought To Be Havin’ Fun, You’re Still A Young Man, So Very Hard to Go, Diggin’ on James Brown (who, btw, was a great fan of ToP) – mixed with songs from their first album in five years, just released, Soul Side of Town, penned primarily by Doc, a strong soul/r & b slant mixing it with typically tough funk and a softer, romantic ballad streak.

Scott really worked the audience, diving in, connecting with individuals, and above all, impressing with his extraordinary vocal range and deep Memphis soul roots. Powerful solos were dropped in from all sections of the stage, with each of the band making their mark.

Tower of Power’s Roger Smith and Sal Cacchiolo at the RAH
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2019. All Rights Reserved


One reservation, having seen the band on several occasions in a variety of venues (including Dingwalls!), was the sound quality in the Albert Hall. Acoustic quality is always hit and miss at this venue and, for me, in the arena area, the boomy, aircraft hangar acoustics knocked back some of the finer detail at the heart of ToP’s incredible, synchronised section work and arrangements.

In intimate settings such as their recent Tiny Desk session they shine, as they did, unreservedly, at Ronnie’s in 2012 (reviewed here) and with a decent sound mix they can blow apart larger venues, as witnessed at Shepherd’s Bush in the same year (review) and the Roundhouse in 2017 (review).

Notwithstanding, the quality of their playing and their navigation of super-tight arrangements is – after an amazing 50 years, where they’ve been through lean periods and hard times as well as being able to ride the wave – as fresh as ever, maybe even fresher today, a testament to dedication, perseverance, great talent and inspiration.

Tower of Power
Emilio Castillo – bandleader, second tenor saxophone, vocals
Marcus Scott – lead vocalist
Adolfo Acosta – trumpet
Sal Cracchiolo – trumpet
Tom Politzer – lead tenor saxophone
Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka – baritone saxophone
Roger Smith – keyboards
Jerry Cortez – guitar
Marc van Wageningen – bass
David Garibaldi – drums

Tower of Power at the RAH
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2019. All Rights Reserved

 

Categories: Live review

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