Tower of Power LIVE! at BergenPAC

Spotlight Central
Spotlight Central

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By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Music fans fill Englewood, NJ’s BergenPAC this Thursday, April 11, 2024 evening for a “Souled Out” 56th Anniversary performance by the Oakland, CA R&B/funk band, Tower of Power.

A fanfare plays and music lovers cheer as Adolfo Acosta on trumpet, Dave Richards on trumpet/trombone, Tom E. Politzer on sax, Jerry Cortez on guitar, Roger Smith on keyboards, Marc Van Wageningen on bass, Pete Antunes on drums, and Jordan John on vocals/guitar — along with founding members Stephen “Doc” Kupka on bari sax, and Emilio Castillo on tenor sax — take the MPAC stage.

Opening with the apropos, “We Came to Play,” horns blare and the rhythm section percolates as Jordan John dances while he and the band sing, “We came to play/We came to play,” on this funky R&B tune.

Greeting the crowd with “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Tower of Power! Are you ready for a good time tonight?” John and the band launch into the fast and funky “Soul with a Capital ’S’” where music lovers join in singing on the catchy “Sweet soul music, that’s the best/Soul with a capital ‘S’” refrain.

The crowd cheers, and John responds, “We’re gonna take you back to Oakland, CA on this next one.” Sailing into the pop-infused R&B tune, “You Ought to Be Having Fun,” audience members clap along to the infectious rhythm as they enjoy the party atmosphere.

Concertgoers hoot and holler, and John asks, “How ya doin’?” before adding, “We’ve got 56 years of music to share with you tonight!” Taking the audience back to 1975, the group performs the quick-paced “Only So Much Oil in the Ground,” where Tom E. Politzer wails on a tenor sax solo and Roger Smith renders a swirling organ solo.

Founding member Emilio Castillo takes the mic to ask, “Englewood, NJ, you guys are partying on a Thursday night?” to which a fan yells out, “I’m gonna call out sick tomorrow,” and Castillo reacts by joking, “You need a ‘Soul Vaccination.’” On the funky horn-driven tune, John sings, “Soul vaccination/All across the nation” and plays rhythm guitar as founding member Stephen “Doc” Kupka bends notes on his bari sax and Marc Van Wageningen plays a funky bass solo backed by Pete Antunes’ driving drums.

Referring to new TOP band members Jordan John and Pete Antunes, Castillo asserts, “We’ve got some young blood in the band and it’s feeling good!” prior to noting, “We’ve got some older members, too, and when you’re old, sometimes you’ve got to slow it down.” Here, he and the group perform “Time Will Tell,” a jazz waltz which features three-part vocal harmonies that support Jordan John’s effortless falsetto lead along with an Adolfo Acosta trumpet solo which floats high above the sound of the tight horns.

“Make some noise for the horn section!” exclaims John, as the group segues into the swinging “This Time it’s Real,” where John sings with style and ease while circles of light dance across the stage to the song’s happy-go-lucky groove.

Castillo announces, “In 2018, we celebrated 50 years together and now it’s 56 years,” as he straps on his tenor and launches into the funky TOP instrumental, “Squib Cakes.”

Brass player Dave Richards switches over from trumpet to trombone, Kupka is featured on a low and funky baritone sax part, and Jerry Cortez picks out a rhythmic guitar solo before Acosta and Politzer are featured, respectively, on trumpet and tenor. Most of the TOP band members leave the stage as Roger Smith plays a soulful and funky organ solo and Antunes follows up with a powerful syncopated drum solo before Cortez and Van Wageningen join in the fun on guitar and bass and the rest of the band returns for the tune’s rollicking conclusion.

The audience cheers as Castillo introduces his fellow band members and the musicians slide into a smoldering rendition of “Diggin’ on James Brown.” Castillo is the featured lead vocalist on this fast and funky number where he sings with gusto, “Ya know the more things change/The more they stay the same/It may be a different age/But I’m on the same page/’Cause one thing that I’ve found/I’ll still be diggin’ on James Brown.”

As concertgoers dance at their seats to the funky R&B sound, John and Co. segue into a medley of James Brown tunes including “Mother Popcorn,” “There It Is,” and “I Got the Feelin’,” prior to jumping back into “Diggin’ on James Brown” to mighty cheers and applause.

Backed by precision rhythm section playing and the rich TOP horn sound, John impresses with his lead vocal on “So Very Hard to Go” a soulful R&B number which also features a smooth Adolfo Acosta flugelhorn solo.

Music lovers cheer, and John asks, “Did you have a good time tonight?” as the band sails into its final selection, “What is Hip?” Music lovers sing along on the song’s funky “What is hip?/Tell me, tell me if you think you know” refrain while they dance to the tune’s infectious uptempo rhythm.

Concertgoers echo John’s “Soul power!” chant and Politzer is featured on a funky tenor solo as the music builds to a frenzy under colored lights.

Cheers emanate from the crowd when John exclaims, “We are Tower of Power!” and the audience rises for a standing ovation as the band leaves the stage.

Returning for an encore, the ensemble performs the R&B/soul ballad, “You’re Still a Young Man.” Starting off with a powerful horn line, rich six-part vocal harmonies ring out on the “You’re still a young man, baby/Don’t waste your time” refrain before John impresses with his full falsetto sound and a series of intricate vocal runs.

The crowd hoots and hollers, and the group plays an encore of the funky and rhythmic “Souled Out.” As he sings, John touches the hands of audience members who make their way to the edge of the stage, and Politzer excites music lovers with a downstage tenor solo before the band brings it all home and John declares, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We are Tower of Power!”

As concertgoers make their way out of the BergenPAC auditorium, several stop to chat with vocalist Jordan John who takes a moment to pose for selfies and sign autographs at the foot of the stage.

When asked what it’s like to be the new lead singer for Tower of Power, John exclaims, “It’s heaven!” Declaring, “I’m having the time of my life — it’s a blast!” John inquires, “How often is it that you get the opportunity to work with the greatest musicians in the world?” before explaining, “I’m so blessed to be in a situation where, every day, every member of the band demonstrates to me what it means to be musically proficient, consistent, and on top of your game, as well as what it is to be a wonderful, kindhearted, and gracious human being.”

Concertgoers also comment on tonight’s performance by Tower of Power. Declares Toni from Asbury Park, “This was one great freakin’ show — it was awesome! I’ve seen Tower of Power four times and they only get better with age!” Roderick from Englewood concurs, acknowledging, “I especially loved it when they played ‘Diggin’ on James Brown.’ That homage was beautiful — it really embodied both James Brown and his music.”

Kim from Sacramento, CA reveals, “My husband has been a Tower of Power fan since before I met him, so we wanted to bring some of our friends to see them for the first time this evening,” prior to adding, “I’ve been to more then 40 Tower of Power concerts and they were outstanding tonight!” Kim’s husband, Tom, agrees, explaining, “The new singer was great, the keyboard player, Roger Smith — who’s from Sacramento — was awesome, and the band was as tight as ever; they were fantastic!”

Kristen from Ramsey, remarks, “I thought the show was great! We’ve been hearing about Tower of Power for a long time because we’re best friends with Kim and Tom, and we had so much fun; we loved it!” Kristen’s husband, Tony, concurs, acknowledging, “This was my first time seeing Tower of Power. Thanks to Tom, I started following their music, and they’re excellent musicians who put on an incredible show,” prior to confessing, “I’ve lived in Bergen County for over 25 years and, until tonight, I’d never been to BergenPAC and it’s a really great place to see a show!”

Gerald from Guttenberg declares, “Tower of Power was just fabulous tonight! I used to hear them play on the West Coast where I grew up, so to see them here 56 years later was incredible. The horns are still as tight as they were back in the day, and the energy is off the charts!” Continuing, “Emilio and ‘Doc’ have done a great job of keeping the group tight and the new lead singer, Jordan John, was amazing,” Gerald asserts, “For me, it was an absolutely beautiful concert — solid from beginning to end,” whereas his companion, Gwendolyn from Brooklyn, sums things up in a single word: “Iconic!”

To learn more about Tower of Power, please go to towerofpower.com. For information about upcoming performances at BergenPAC — including Todd Rundgren on May 2; Yes: Epics, Classics, and More featuring Jon Anderson on June 1; Rick Springfield and Richard Marx on June 20; and the original lead singer of Foreigner, Lou Gramm, on June 29 — please click on bergenpac.org.

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