Friday, January 07, 2011

Tower of Power impresses at The Coach House

Baritone sax master Stephen “Doc” Kupka, lead tenor sax player Tom E. Politzer and second tenor sax player Emilio Castillo had a blast at the Coach House on Thursday night.

Photo credit: Robert Steshetz

Few legendary artists deliver the kind of sonic fireworks four decades into their career that they did in their first.

But don’t tell that to the 10 members of Tower of Power, who performed an energetic show that likely inspired as much as it fully entertained a capacity crowd of mostly baby boomers at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday night (Jan. 6, 2011).

The Oakland-based funk-soul outfit is in a musical world of its own, with its five-man horn section planted firmly center stage next to lead singer Larry Braggs while the solid rhythm section, guitarist Jerry Cortez and keyboardist Roger Smith occupy the rear.

But what mattered most was the wonderful material and how the urban soul champions performed it over the course of 90 wonderful minutes.

From the opening notes of the grooving “Soul Vaccination” that kicked things off to the night-ending “You’re Still a Young Man,” the troupe performed as if they were a young band just trying to get a break. Indeed, hits such as “What Is Hip?” shined as brightly as material off Tower of Power’s latest CD, 2009’s Great American Soulbook. While R&B takes on “Me & Mrs. Jones” and “So Very Hard to Go” allowed Braggs’ incredible tenor to take the spotlight, it was frequently the band’s celebrated horn section (singer-second tenor sax player Emilio Castillo, baritone sax master Stephen “Doc” Kupka, lead tenor sax player Tom E. Politzer, trumpet and flugelhorn virtuoso Adolfo Acosta, trumpet and trombone player Mic Gillette) that dazzled.

The aptly-titled “Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now” and “You Got to Funkifize” were among the many songs that allowed the horn section to blast away without ever wandering out of the pocket. With Tower of Power continuing to be one of the hardest working bands in show business and playing hundreds of shows every year, it’s easy to take the Bay Area boys for granted.

Best to follow in the delinquent steps of this critic, and catch them now.

The band is a frequent visitor to the Coach House, but will perform its next area show as part of a double bill with WAR at San Manuel Indian Casino in Highland on Feb. 17.

Opening the show was Orange County-based blues singer-songwriter Connie Rae, who despite the sole accompaniment of keyboardist-singer Roland Jenster, delivered a solid 45-minute crowd pleasing set.

She scored big points with the audience for a strong reworking of the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine,” but reached equally-emotive heights with her own “Sister Garden” and “Message of Hope.”

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