TOP melds pure power
with funk for the future

By John Berger

Anyone who thought that Tower of Power was coming to town Saturday to play a typical oldies show slowly figured out it wasn't that kind of party. The show at the Sheraton-Waikiki was almost 45 minutes old before the band played any of the many hits and coulda-been hits from its breakthrough albums of the early 1970s.

"This Time It's Real" finally broke the drought for old-time TOP fans. "So Very Hard to Go" followed about 30 minutes later, and a 10-minute version of "What Is Hip?" closed the main set. "You're Still a Young Man" opened the 25-minute encore.

On the other hand, when it came to pure soul power and stage presence, TOP 2003 proved every bit as powerful as in days of old, with co-founders Emilio Castillo and Stephen "Funky Doctor" Kupka leading the TOP horns, and drummer David Garibaldi and bassist Francis Rocco Prestia reunited as the rhythm section. It was Prestia's second concert back with TOP since his lifesaving liver transplant, and the fans gave him a particularly warm welcome.

"This ain't no smooth-jazz concert; you ain't gonna hear no Kenny G," Castillo announced near the midpoint of the powerful excursion through jazz, funk, soul and rock. The crowd roared.

Larry Braggs was everything Castillo promised and more as the group's "new" lead vocalist; TOP fans should have no qualms about placing advance orders from the upcoming "Oakland Zone" album.

Kupka starred as the foremost funky dancer in the energetic horn section, and Castillo established his credentials as an engaging front man when he swapped his sax for the microphone and stepped forward to work the crowd singing "Diggin' on James Brown." That was the song that put the whole night in context. In the best tradition of Brown's legendary shows, the concert was less about Top 40 hits and more about extended grooves and the virtuosity of each individual.

Each band member earned a showcase solo -- Adolpho Acosta (trumpet), Tom Politzer (lead tenor sax), Roger Smith (keyboards), Jeff Tamelier (guitar) and "Iron Mike" Bogart (trumpet and trombone), meshing seamlessly with the four veterans -- and their work together reaffirmed that TOP 2003 is a worthy successor to Brown's groups and the funkiest "horn band" in rock, as well.

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