Posts Tagged ‘Tower of Power’


Tower of Power in Las Vegas

September 19, 2011

Sorry, i's just a sneaked iPhone photo!

We spent the weekend in Las Vegas and didn’t go to the Strip. We didn’t gamble at all, even though there is a full casino at the South Point, where we were staying. It’s just way, way south of the Strip, probably five miles south of the airport. It was originaly the South Coast, a part of the Coast family of hotel/casinos, then bought and run separately. It’s pretty new, and well-cared-for.

I was pleasantly surprised how consistently good the food was. Even the buffet, a Las Vegas hotel staple, was really pretty decent. We tried the Mexican-style restaurant, the Italian place, the 24-hour café, and a for-real Steak ‘n Shake inside the casino. All of the food was well-prepared, and most of the time the service was at least OK, and sometimes very good.

The pool was nice and the area was really well-done, but the water was cold! I was surprised – yes, the air temp was from 90 to 95, but the water had be around 70 to maybe 75 degrees.

We weren’t there to gamble or any of that. We were there to see Tower of Power, and we got tickets for all three nights. The concert venue was called a “showroom,” which meant it was multi-level seating with tables and booths around the outside. It looked like the tables are chairs could be removed so that the lower sections could be used as a dance floor.

We’ve been in venues like that before, and while they were pretty intimate, the seating was somewhat uncomfortable. What amazed me was that this one was well designed for space – we never felt crammed together – and the sound system was truly excellent.

I’ve complained about sound in some places we’ve heard Tower before, especially the House of Blues in Chicago. I don’t think HoB was really designed to project the subtleties of a band like Tower. The sound system there is designed to be felt, not heard, and it for certain does that!

This one was loud – even a touch louder in the very back than it needed to be – but it was clear as any I have every heard. I’ve never heard the individual horns as clearly as I did there. I also never heard the background vocals as well. That was the real treat, to hear the vocals. While these guys aren’t noted for being big vocalists, they do a nice job singing backup harmony. Emilio Castillo, who is the co-leader of the group for 44 years now, tends to sing the high lead backgrounds in a head voice. I can tell you that this weekend Mimi was in good voice and we were able to hear him, and the rest of the band, especially on things like the end of “You’re Still A Young Man.

The first night we sat over on stage right on the second level, about two-thirds of the way back. The second night, we were in the back, in a booth, next to the sound and light boards. The third night we were stage right again, about halfway back.

We’ve been seeing Tower for almost twenty years, all over the country. It’s been our one vice. We’ve seen them at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, at the old Grant Park in Chicago, at the Venue at the Horseshoe Casino in Indiana, at Ravinia outdoors (in Highland Park), at an outdoor venue in San Diego, in an auditorium at Michigan State University, at two locations in Fort Wayne, Indiana (indoors and outdoors), on New Year’s Even at Universal Studios Citywalk in Orlando, at the Zoo in Portland, Oregon, and at three different venues now in Las Vegas.  And of course, House of Blues in Chicago. I have to say this was, by far, the best sound for the band I’ve ever heard, in what has to be at least twenty separate shows.

This is a problem. If they come back here again, we’re going to have to come back! This gets a little expensive. The rooms were affordable this time because my wife made the reservations early enough and the economy has made hotel rooms in Las Vegas more inexpensive. By now, the place was full with several conventions and such and getting a room in the last couple of weeks would have been impossible. I sure hope Southwest drops their rates soon!

And Tower? To me they sound as good as they ever have. I thought the band from about six or seven years ago, with Mike Bogart on lead trumpet and Jeff Tamelier on guitar, was the best band personnel mix they ever had. The new trumpet player, Sal Cracchiolo, and the guitarist, Jerry Cortez, are not only very competent in playing their parts but both are truly excellent soloists. Sal is much more of a jazz soloist than any lead trumpet they’ve had in years, maybe since Mic Gillette, and with Adolfo Acosta as the second trumpet, who has great solo chops and solid high range as well, the top end of the horns is in fine shape. Tommy Politzer just gets better and better as the solo tenor player, with a strong and agile altissimo register, and Roger Smith has been given more solo space as time goes on, especially on Hammond B3.

The “Old Guard” – the founders who are still there – David Garibaldi, drums; Francis “Rocco” Prestia, bass; and co-leaders Stephen “Doc” Kupka, bari sax; and Emilio Castillo, tenor sax; are just as solid as ever and seem still to be having a great time after 44 years.

The face of the band for the last ten years or so, the lead vocalist, Larry Braggs, has matured into an incredible showman as well as a gifted and inspiring singer. His singing just gets better all the time, and he’s getting more chances to show what he can do, like on tunes like the band’s cover of “Me and Mrs. Jones” from the “Great American Soulbook” album. The longer Larry’s been with the band the more the band has molded a bit to him and he to the band. Larry’s been with the band longer than any other lead singer now, and he was a great find. He’s able to sing practically everything from their 40-year repertoire, and do so convincingly. For these shows they pulled out an oldie, “Below Us, All The City Lights,” from the “Back to Oakland” album from 1974. The chord progression and melody sounds a lot like the tunes Doc Kupka wrote for his “Doc Goes Hollywood” record for his own Strokeland label.  It works, but it’s got to be tough to sing, hearing where the melody goes next. Larry handled it beautifully each night.

Okay, so what didn’t you like? Not much, and I suspect you can tell that. They never start at 7:30 on the dot, and a usual show for them is about an hour and twenty minutes, plus one encore (Saturday and Sunday they played two). This time apparently they were supposed to be out at 9:00 – there was another show in the venue at 10:00. Mimi said something about being overtime and still planning to play two encores on Saturday.

The big issue is that Tower is a stand up and clap and dance kind of group. You don’t sit down when they play. But in a room like this you have to, because the sight lines make it impossible for the people below you to see unless they are also standing. The tiers and right angles make that worse than some other venues.  The tables tend to pack people in close, too, which also makes it hard to move without sticking an elbow in somebody’s eye. Also, some of the front seats are reserved for high rollers as comps – so you get some folks down front who have no idea what the hell they got themselves into. Sometimes they make a hasty exit about ten minutes into the show. Nature of the casino beast, I guess. I really enjoy the places like Humphrey’s in San Diego that has a big enough pit area in front for the die-hard fans to come up and hand and carry on and everybody else can sit back and see. It’s an outdoor place, and the sound is just OK, but when I’m right underneath Doc’s bari I really don’t care!

All together, a great time, and a location I would highly recommend. I’m afraid it will be very hard to resist the temptation to go back if they play there again next year!




Yvonne Kupka needs our help!

December 3, 2010

Yvonne Depatis-Kupka, wife of Tower of Power co-leader Stephen Mackenzie “Doc” Kupka, is in need of a liver transplant. A medical fund has been set up to collect and administer donations. Go to the Yvonne Kupka Medical Fund web site to make a donation. A little from a lot of folks means a lot!

There are other ways to help, too. Go to Strokeland Records, Doc’s record company, and buy stuff. You’ll love the music and you’ll be helping Doc and Yvonne as well! My personal favorites: Doc’s Strokeland Superband: “Kick It Up A Step,” and the first recording by a group from the Northwest called DoctorFunk. Check them out!

Click to make a donation to the Yvonne Kupka Medical Fund.


Tower of Power, June 18, 2009

June 22, 2009


Tower played at the Power Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Thursday night, June 18, 2009. We were in the second row, and we had a wonderful time!

Lydia Pense and the latest incarnation of Cold Blood was up first that night. I remember the band from the early 1970s when they came out with an album called “Sysiphus.” Mic Gillette, from Tower, played trumpet for them back in the day. Pense is the only original member still in the band. The band’s tunes were not as memorable as Tower’s, but the band served up some pretty decent rhythm and blues with Pense’s Janis Joplin-tinged vocals. Both horn players did a fine job, and in particular trumpet player Rich Armstrong was a standout.

The members of TOP seemed to enjoy themselves a great deal that night. Some nights the crowd is tough to get up and going, but they had this bunch eating out of their hands. Since Tommy Politzer, Mike Bogart, Mark Harper and of course Emillio Castillo are all former Michiganders it was a lot of fun for everyone. Mike’s mom was even at the concert! That was great because Mike is leaving the band to pursue a career in music ed at the end of July. We’re going to miss him, even though Mic Gillette is coming back to fill the lead trumpet/trombone spot he founded in the band!

The playlist includes several of the tunes from the new “Great American Soulbook” cover album – including patching some JB tunes into the middle of “Diggin’ On James Brown.” Being in the second row meant I even got a few halfway decent pictures from my iPhone, which has a relatively poor camera. (The one of Tommy P above is from the iPhone.) It was a great night, the band played great, and everybody went home happy. (And the strong thunderstorms came in the following night, so we missed all of that.)

I can’t comment on the sound system – we were so close we basically heard live sound and stage monitors only, which was a different balance, of course, but well worth it to get close enough to get to sing “Diggin’ On James Brown” into Mimi’s mic…


TOP in Hammond, Indiana

April 18, 2009


It’s a pretty good location. It’s supposed to seat 2500. It was part of the renovation of the casino a year or so ago, and it’s very comfortable, and seems to have a good sound system. We were in the second row of tables, close to the front, and from there you tend to here more of the stage monitor mix than the main house feed, so I can’t vouch for the sound farther back.

Sightlines look good, and the mezzanine level might be the real place to sit. It’s not too far away – and there are two large video screens flanking the stage, so you can still see the action. If the mix is good back there, just back of of the board, it should be pretty nice.

The band played well, and a bunch of Larry’s friends and family from Chicago must have come down for the concert. He was pretty much mobbed at that time. I was able to squeeze in and get him to sign my set list. (They were selling autographed copies of the set list for $ 20 each, only 20 copies. Larry and Rocco were the only ones who had not signed them. Now mine just needs Rocco’s signature!)

Anyway, a good concert, the band played “You Met Your Match” from the new album, “Great American Soulbook,” apparently for the first time live. Sounded great to me, although Bogus says Larry invented a few lyrics. I think Stevie Wonder probably did that from time to time as well…anyway, he sounded great.  It was a delightful evening all the way around and Bogus says he read that the guy who runs The Venue is a big Tower fan, so maybe they will have a good location to play in the Chicago area every time the come through on tour!


Tower of Power’s New Album!

April 8, 2009

topsoulbookTower did something new, after 40 years of playing and recording mainly original material – a covers album! With guests Tom Jones, Huey Lewis, Sam Moore, and Joss Stone, this one is on their own TOP Records label. Go to Tower of Power’s website to order it.

I’m listening to it now, so I can’t really react to it very much yet, but I will say this…Joss Stone is for real. Damn, that l’il white girl can sing! She’s barely old enough to drink, and she sound like she’s been singing on the road for twenty years…think Aretha in her prime! She’s getting there, this one is…watch out for her. And she fits with Larry and the band better than I ever expected.

Three tracks were produced by George Duke, and the band has a different sound that is still Tower-like. Bruce Conte plays on most of the tracks, since they were recorded when he was still with the band. I’m glad to hear him on the record.

One thing I’m noticing is that because the songs weren’t conceived with the Tower horns in mind, the integration of the two is not always as organic as TOP’s original material. The horns were almost a second voice to the lead vocalist in many of their tunes…some of these tunes have more “background horn” tracks…Dave Eskridge did a great job on the horn arrangements (Adolfo and Mike did some of the writing as well) but it’s just…different.

I see the band operating in three modes over the past 40 years…putting together the characteristic TOP sound in the early years, experimentation – especially with synths – in the 80s, and getting back to the roots in the 90s to today. This is another step for the band, and I applaud them for moving out of the comfort zone that’s worked so well for them for so long!