Opened almost a year ago, the Carteret Performing Arts & Events Center in New Jersey always has the shine of a new car in the showroom.
tower of power achieved the equivalent of classic car status decades ago, but the band remains a well-maintained soul music machine, with new vocalist Mike Jerel providing a fresh coat of wax.
TOP held their fall tour at the pristine Carteret venue on Nov. 18, and Jerel was quick to highlight his status as, in his words, “the new guy.” The crowd was a bit slow and lukewarm in responding to Jerel’s in-between-song banter and even the opening songs, but by the time TOP finished an extended version of the hit “Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream) ,” which was reinforced by Jerel’s vocal improvisations, the atmosphere in the crowd was close to that on stage.
The B-side of 1973’s “Soul Vaccination” was an early highlight (how this song was not used in a national campaign at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a missed opportunity to several levels). When they played the A-side of that song, “This Time It’s Real,” co-founder/second tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo and lead tenor saxophonist Tom E. Politzer swayed along with the beat. That kind of move wasn’t in the cards for Stephen “Doc” Kupka, who was unflappable but by no means statuesque: The band’s co-founder and baritone saxophonist took off his hat and waved when he was introduced (with great respect) by the talkative Castille. And during “So Very Hard to Go,” Kupka joined fellow horn players Castillo, Politzer, Adolfo Acosta and Mike Bogart in providing synchronized finger snaps and arm sweeps during the verses.
Castillo almost stole the show as the frontman of the fun and funky “Diggin’ on James Brown” (from 1995 Relieved), and Politzer took full advantage of drummer David Garibaldi’s relentless groove on “What Is Hip?” moving to the front of the stage to play a long, energetic sax solo.
Tower of Power’s fall US tour wraps up with shows in Collingswood, New Jersey on November 19 and Tarrytown, New York on November 20.