Sunday, May 01, 2005

Still Powerful After All These Years

I got to spend a second day at the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival yesterday, and the crowds were even more massive than the night before (I'd never gotten to go on a Saturday before, thanks--or would that be no thanks?--to a weekend job I had for several years).

The headliner last night was Tower of Power, a band I've enjoyed since high school. I knew that they had been around since at least the early '70s, but even I was surprised to hear co-founder Emilio Castillo point out that they actually dated back to 1968! At any rate, the band, with their soul-funk grooves punctuated by the legendary horn section (which has been known to hire itself out as a unit for other people's recordings) never fails to please, and this time was no exception.

There have been lots of personnel changes in the band over the years, but Steve "Doc" Kupka (baritone sax) and the aforementioned Castillo (second tenor) have been there the whole time. Some of the players that have gone through this band are near-legends, including tenor saxist Lenny Pickett (currently of the Saturday Night Live band), organist Chester Thompson, bassist Francis "Rocco" Prestia and drummer David Garibaldi (the latter two having rejoined the band in recent years). New lead vocalist Larry Braggs did a fine job; he might not be up there with my two favorites--Lenny Williams and Hubert Tubbs--but he'd easily be #3 on that list. It was also a homecoming for trumpeter Adolfo Acosta, former lead player for the One O'Clock.

One thing was for sure, this band came to party. (Sure, something could be said about the party starting 45 minutes late, but that's another story.) They constantly engaged the audience in sing-alongs, implored everyone to get up on their feet, and even chided the section that was mostly seated in their lawn chairs for thinking they were at a New Age concert. The horns also had some great choreography (not while playing, of course), with the younger members even jumping in the air a few times. Fun stuff.

Many of their tunes may have a similar formula, but the formula works. In the hour-and-a-half set, they played most of their best-known tunes (either alone or in a medley format): Squib Cakes, Oakland Stroke, Don't Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream), So Very Hard to Go, and so on. When they got to What Is Hip?, we knew it was almost time for the end of the show, and the extended encore included their very first chart hit, You're Still a Young Man.

The concert did run quite late; most of the audience didn't make it through the extended encore (ourselves included), but it was indeed a great time. I definitely hope they come through the area again soon.

(UPDATE: Reader Gary P. had issues with the sound quality, and some other stuff, in the comments; I'll respond to that there.)


Gary P. said...


I've got a couple dozen of their charts and trying to trade with a guy for a couple dozen more. About the time I started directing the Frisco Jazz Band, one of the other trumpet players and I were kicking around the idea of forming a Tower of Power cover band.... not a bar band or a generic cover band, but strictly a Tower of Power band. (If the idea ever gets off the ground, know where I can find a bari sax player Kev?)

That being said, I was really disappointed with their performance last night. It was my 7th time to see them, and my first time to leave with a bad impression. First off, they started almost an hour late. Second, the mix was AWFUL from my vantage point way in the back by the craft booths. There were times I couldn't hear the trumpets AT ALL... and I know when they should and should not be playing. Finally, I thought all the 8va and hanging over in the lead trumpet (when I could hear it) was too much -- as opposed to "Just Enough and Too Much." Now don't get me wrong... I love Maynard's band and DCI and any other venue where lead trumpets hanging over is encouraged, even expected. But I thought it ruined the tightness of the unique ToP sound. From where I was I couldn't tell if it was Mike or Adolfo doing it, or if Adolfo was putting on a show for his homecoming concert, but I didn't care for it. It was late, and I ended up leaving during the medley.... Ain't Nothing Stopping Us Now to be specific.

But it did give me incentive to get these ToP charts I have into Finale from paper copies and pdf files so I can edit them and add background vocals and stuff like that. Maybe that band will end up getting greenlighted.....tentative name "Urban Renewal".

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Gary. I've been listening to ToP since their beginning and it's really sad when the Cd's playing have more zip than the band's live performance. Sorry, Kev, but it's a little obvious that you have not experienced ToP at its finest. Yes, they are all good musicians but after making a crowd wait THAT long, you've got to come on stage kickin ass, not resting on your rep. And so what if there were "technical difficulties"...Several years ago Joshua Redman was plagued by "technical difficulties" and he sure didn't come on stage and then walk off again! He got as frustrated as the crowd and didn't make them wait forever; he just (in TRUE professional fashion) had his group play without mics and speakers and anything else that wasn't working. And you could hear him just fine and well beyond the Civic Center! And the audience loved and respected him for it! Don't tell me that ToP couldn't have done the same, had they wished to do so! Or maybe this ToP couldn't have...........

Kev said...

Anonymous--please identify yourself; I always like to know who I'm talking to. I only allow anonymous comments on here because everyone else has complied with this request so far.

I was at that Redman show in '99, and yeah, it was great...nice and intimate. I'm afraid I wasn't aware of anything having to do with the band walking on and offstage; we were pretty far in the back (about even with the mixing board platform) and couldn't see a thing until we finally decided to stand up once the first tune started. So you're saying that they came out for a second and then went back? Weird...

Gary--I didn't mind the lead-trumpet-hanging-over thing; I actually thought it was kinda cool because it hadn't ever happened before. No idea which one it was either, but the "Adolfo putting on a show for the home crowd" theory certainly has merit.

And yeah, the sound was awful...but then it was awful all weekend. There was often way too much bass and bass drum in every performance I saw, and Arturo was not nearly so front-and-center (at least when playing trumpet) in the mix as I was expecting from having heard his recordings. I'm not sure what the story is, but my theory is that perhaps, in their effort to keep the festival free, they couldn't afford soundmen who specialize in jazz concerts. That leaves you with people whose expertise is rock, which would certainly explain the bass-heaviness.

I experienced this myself when one of my school groups played an outdoor concert in Allen--Gary, you might well remember the "Joe Farmer Recreation Center"--and those guys had no clue as to what to do with a jazz band. To quote the old musician joke, my bari sax player really did sound like a chainsaw...

Anyway...yeah, it wasn't perfect, but it had been at least a decade since I'd seen TOP, so I guess a technically-flawed serving was better than continuing to go hungry.

Gary P. said...

You know, I think I was at that Redman performance in '99 too, but I didn't stick around long for him. My wife had taken me to hear the 1:00 who went on before Joshua. My daughter would have been 3 at the time and I think that's why we left soon after the One finished.

Re: Adolfo. Bogart is officially listed as the "lead" trumpet for ToP, but I could see him switching roles for a night to give Adolfo the glory in Denton. The last time I saw them live was in 2002 in California. Adolfo and Mike were the trumpet players then too, and there wasn't any gratuitous squealing from them.... until they traded solo choruses in Knock Yourself Out to close the set. I had absolutely no problem with that!!

The TI Band played the Allen Summer Sounds concert series at Joe Farmer last year. I think the horns were unplugged for the gig though, but yeah we've played at places like the Plano Balloon Festival and Richardson Wildflower Festival where it sounded like the board was run by someone who knew someone who was a roadie for Poison in 1988.

I actually posted some similar thoughts about the mix on the ToP message board and got a reply from a guy on their sound crew. Apparently Joe McBride went way over his allotted time so the sound crew didn't have enough time to check all the levels before the show went on -- even as late as it was -- and they weren't able to realize they had some faulty equipment on stage. He also said they were butting heads with the local cops over decibel levels.

Did you know ToP has a couple of DVD's available? One is a two-hour performance from the mid-80's taped at a bar in the midwest (Iowa maybe?). It's a little slow at times... lots of open jam time for soloists with the rest of the band standing around and looking at them. Richard Elliot was the tenor soloist at the time. The other DVD was taped in the late 90's for the German TV show Ohne Filter ("Unfiltered"). The mix is VERY top heavy (no pun intended) and Rocco may as well not even be plugged in for as little as he's heard on the DVD. It's a good look at what the current concert set is like though.

Gary P. said...

Let me clear some things up for Kev and the 3 other readers of this blog...

I got an email from Adolfo yesterday. He said it wasn't him doing all the lead trumpet effects. He also said he knows those open free concerts can be a drag with having to fight parking, crowds, weather, etc. He said he regretted that I didn't enjoy it and said he hoped the next ToP show I saw would be a better experience. Very classy and certainly not something he had to do.

Kev said...

"Let me clear some things up for Kev and the 3 other readers of this blog..."

Heh...hey now, as my SiteMeter points out, this blog has at least 5 other readers. ;-) They're just kinda bashful in the commenting department sometimes.

That is really cool about the email from Adolfo, though. I'm always amazed how touring musicians have time to read their own message boards, but the interactive thing is great.

Anonymous said...

To Kev.... if I have to have a label, you can call me 1 of 5. If you don't wish to have anonymous posters don't offer the option. Also when I clicked on "other" it also states all fields are optional. I'm a reader but not bashful. No offense but I usually just don't find much I wish to comment on. Yes, ToP went on stage only to go back off again. I was standing near the hospitality tent and saw them finally get up there, only to find something else not to their liking and go back off and back into the tent for another 20 minutes.

To Gary and the others.....It's nice to get a reply from a professional but I guess I'm more cynical; because you were answered so quickly, I would suspect that a staff person replied.

Gary P. said...

It's nice to get a reply from a professional but I guess I'm more cynical; because you were answered so quickly, I would suspect that a staff person replied.

I didn't post here all that Adolfo wrote. It came from what appeared to be his personal account with a nationwide ISP and had some personal details specific to Adolfo that I wouldn't expect a random staffer to know. I don't question the authenticity of it at all.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't expect it to be a random staffer, more than likely a personal assistant whose specific job is to take of PR work like that. Not trying to burst the bubble or anything; but hey, what does it matter anyway? You got an answer and that's what counts.

Anonymous said...

I had a brief stint in a ToP cover band. *feels special.. sort of*

I too was disappointed in the performance. My thoughts are basically the same as Gary except it was my first time seeing the group. My mother, on the other hand, has seen the original guys and was more disappointed than I was. At one point she said, "The original guys in wheelchairs could have done better."

A friend of ours is on the board that puts together the festival. The friend said that from the begining they had problems with ToP. Apparently, they had a lot of issues negotiating the contract with them, among other things. The friend said that the board was also disappointed in the performance and have learned their lesson.. whatever that might be.

Looking back, a good thing came out of it. I learned that the groups on the Celebration Stage weren't the only ones that had to deal with incompetent soundmen. During our performance, the horn mics weren't on. The guy behind the board out front was gabbing until my Mom yelled at him to do his job. Then he fumbled around unsuccessfully to find what channels we were on. The other guy, at the side of the stage, wandered off and made himself a peanut butter sandwich. The only productive thing he did was to tell Kris to turn his bass down... and that was in the middle of our next to last song.

Kev said...

"if I have to have a label, you can call me 1 of 5."

1 of 5, huh? So now this blog is being read by the Borg. Resistance is not futile; I will not be assimilated. ;-)

"If you don't wish to have anonymous posters don't offer the option."

The only reason I've done so up to this point is because everyone has complied with the request (which I reiterate every month or so) that I'd like for people to uncloak if they use that option.

Anyway, for now, I won't change the option, but I of course reserve the right to later. Let me just say this: if you don't know me personally, keep the cloak on to your heart's content. If you do, then speak up already!

Anonymous said...

My, my; touchy, aren't we? Resorting to sarcasism just because you didn't get your own way and have me give you my name? I have a good retort about borg and expanding your reader's list but I won't insult either you or I with it! Thank you for "allowing me" to continue using my cloak; it's a bit chilly in here right now!

Gary P. said...

Wow.... 12 comments (now 13)... and a Jazzy G sighting! Kev's never going to be able to bump this entry off the main page.

G, did your mom realize 4 of the 10 guys on stage were originals? (Mimi, Doc, Rocco, and Garibaldi)

Kev said...

"My, my; touchy, aren't we?"

Nah, not at all. Just pointing out my usual policy. My blog, my rules...but I'm being lax on one aspect of those rules anyway, just to continue the dialogue.

Besides, it's not so much the anonymity of things that bugs me--it's more about the confusion that results if more than one Anonymous starts posting comments. Since you've made up a (somewhat Borgian) nickname, that's cool; if you don't mind, just sign your posts with that to distinguish yourself from the other Anonymi.

"Resorting to sarcasism just because you didn't get your own way and have me give you my name?"

I may never find out your identity, but I'm now pretty sure that we haven't met, if you consider my Borg comment to be sarcasm. Sure, I use sarcasm a lot, but this wasn't a slam; I was just playing off the "1 of 5" thing.

Anonymous said...

Gary -
A sighting eh? Wow.. Have I been reduced to an alien/yeti/nessie? Personally, I'd like to think of myself as a rare and valuable comodity. ;-)

We weren't standing in a very good place to clearly see the ToP guys onstage, and we left after 3 songs. I know she recognized 3 of the 4 originals that you mentioned.

[] - Shameless plug to get a few more viewers/commenters.

Anonymous said...

Seems like I've really gotten under your skin! Pretty cool how something as simple as "ghost writing" can stir things up and get one out of a rut. It's even got you to start another thread that has possibilities! Relax and enjoy it; you might find "loosening the proverbial tie around your neck" will be a welcome change for you.

Gary P. said...

Personally, I'd like to think of myself as a rare and valuable comodity.

Well on this blog, your posts are both rare and valuable... so you got that covered! ;-) backatcha

Kev said...

"Seems like I've really gotten under your skin!"

I'm not sure where that idea is coming from; it's a stretch to interpret a response to a comment as being bothered by said comment. That's what they're here for, after all--to start, and continue, a dialogue between me and my readers, and between the readers themselves. Under my skin you have not gotten (whoa, Yoda sentence; can't wait till next Wednesday night!).

Besides, I did get you to use a nickname, and you got to keep your anonymity--sounds like a good compromise to me.

"you might find "loosening the proverbial tie around your neck" will be a welcome change for you."

Now that one made me chuckle. Ask anyone who knows me--there's rarely a tie around my neck, either for real or metaphorically. Actually, I'm a shorts-and-flip-flops kind of guy. It's interesting that you're somehow finding indications of tension in my writing; it's been said many times that it's hard to express tone in things like email, but I'm pretty sure my writing usually conveys the real me. At any rate, welcome to the party, and feel free to stick around.