Tower of Power CRUSHES The Capitol Theatre, Clearwater 

[Photographs here were purloined from John L. Perry, Mike MacArthur, and Dave Coash (photos from 02.18).]

I have tried to understand what it must be like to be in a play or musical production, where night after night you deliver the same lines and the same songs. I imagine the thrill is in creating the best performance possible for yourself and for the audience of the night every time you step on stage.

And I imagine it must be similar in some respects for long-established musical groups who have a body of songs which fans simply adore, meaning that, for some, the setlist from night to night is largely the same — with a few substitutions and different order. Again, it seems that the object would be to create the best performance possible for yourself and for the audience of the night.

And to enjoy yourself while you do it.

Tower of Power – 02.18.22. 📷: Dave Coash

This was my first time hearing Tower of Power live. Their setlist was slammed with songs the fans already know, delivered with stunning precision. EVERYBODY in the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida, on Thursday, February 17, had an absolutely fabulous time. But…

NOBODY — and I mean NOBODY — had a better time than the ten members of Tower of Power. NOT NOBODY, NOT NO HOW.

Tower of Power – 02.17.22. 📷: John L. Perry

[Ed. Note: Anyone who has seen me at a show or a festival knows that I sit there with my little 5×3 notebook and pen, taking copious if illegible notes. If I don’t, I won’t remember details. Lots of details. Banter. Solos. Impressions. When I got home from this show, I was so excited that I transcribed the setlist immediately. And promptly lost the notebook. Likely it is hiding with Tupperware lids, missing socks, and the directions to that thing I don’t know how to install. Wish me luck. Here goes.]

The band is named Tower of Power, with the accent on POWER. 

The band features founding members Emilio Castillo, tenor saxophone; and Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka, baritone saxophone; with David Garibaldi, drums; Roger Smith, keyboards; Adolfo Acosta, trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom E. Politzer, tenor saxophone; Jerry Cortez, guitar; Marc van Wageningen, bass; Mike Bogart, trumpet, trombone; and Mike Jerel, vocals. and EVERYBODY SINGS.

They came out smokin’ with a brilliant opening medley: “We Came to Play > Soul with a Capital “S” > You Ought to Be Havin’ Fun.” And we were dazzled immediately by new vocalist Mike Jerel. Given his command of the lyrics, the banter, the moves, and the heart of the band, there was absolutely no way to grok the fact that this was his FOURTH SHOW with the band. Incredible!

The band then dug in for the songs we know and love so deeply, beginning with my upspoken request, “Only So Much Oil in the Ground.” Jerel’s ability to offer perfect introductions to songs such as “Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream)” and “Soul Vaccination” was truly impressive. Another fabulous aspect was hearing three and sometimes six band members singing background vocals.

Impressive too were the solos of every member of the band, focusing first on the lead soloist Tom E. Politzer, whose tenor sax scorched the stage time and again. Jerry Cortez had several killer guitar solos throughout the night. Jerel got a few minutes’ respite as the band tore through the instrumental wonder “Squib Cakes.” Although we were clearly dazzled by the five-man horn line in front, it was impossible to ignore the deep, deep grooves set up by David Garibaldi on drums and stunning bass playing from Marc van Wageningen. This was also one of the spots (I think) where Roger Smith played magnificent Hammond B3.

Emilio Castillo – Tower of Power – 02.18.22. 📷: Dave Coash

Emilio Castillo and I share a deep love of The GFOS (Godfather of Soul), as did the entire band, as got deep, down, and funky with “Diggin’ On James Brown,” a spectacular homage that kept rolling until somebody said, “It’s Star Time” (the way JB was often introduced) before they shot into “Got That Feeling,” one of the deepest grooves by the hardest-working man in show business. WOW!

There weren’t many ballads on the setlist, but “So Very Hard to Go” sounded as great as ever in Jerel’s hands. This was one of the places where Adolfo Acosta offered up a sweet flugelhorn solo. It was also great to have Iron Mike Bogart back in the fold, sounding great on both trumpet and trombone.

We all knew it was coming, but that didn’t dampen the excitement when the unmistakeable beginning to “What is Hip?” filled the hall. Castillo had invited local jazz star Mike MacArthur to join them on tenor sax. Let me just suggest that, if you were there but didn’t know MacArthur before, you damn sure do now. “What is Hip?” meshed with “Soul Power,” and MacArthur and Politzer took charge in the middle of the tune and battled blazing tenors into an incendiary bonfire.  “Soul Power” melted back into “What is Hip?” to close the set.

CLOSE THE SET? WHO ARE YOU KIDDING? I complain often about audiences who don’t deserve an encore. This crowd certainly did, making their appreciation and admiration know. We were rewarded with the band’s other great ballad, “You’re Still a Young Man,” which they ramped up into a show closing “Souled Out.”

Bravo to the Capitol Theatre sound engineers for achieving near-perfection. Bravo too to the ushers who permitted patrons to walk forward to grab quick pictures.


[02.17.22: We Came to Play > Soul with a Capital “S” > You Ought to Be Havin’ Fun, Only So Much Oil in the Ground, Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream), Soul Vaccination, This Time It’s Real, Time Will Tell, Squib Cakes, Diggin’ On James Brown > It’s Star Time > Got That Feeling, So Very Hard to Go, What is Hip? > Soul Power; E: You’re Still a Young Man > Souled Out]




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