Review: What is hip? Tower of Power after 50 years onstage

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Tower of Power fills the MontBleu Theatre with the Oakland grease sound it created 50 years ago.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa played host to hordes of Tower of Power fans this weekend, as the iconic funk and soul band played two sold-out nights to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

A massive line and a packed house marked the run-up to the Friday night show, with every seat in the MontBleu Theatre spoken for. The 10-piece band marched out to cheers and catcalls to “Soul with a Capital ‘S’ ” piped in over the stage speakers.

“Make some noise y’all,” frontman Marcus Scott exhorted the crowd, as ToP’s wall of sound blasted forth over the crowd.

[pullquote]We’re gonna keep this party going now, because this town is real.”[/pullquote]The first set featured plenty of upbeat, crowd-shaking tunes “Get Your Feet Back on the Ground” and “Ain’t Nothing Stopping Us Now,” as well as romantic slow jams such as “Time Will Tell,” the latter featuring a fantastic, searing sax solo by Tom Politzer. This is high octane soul and R&B from a super experienced group of players, definitely baby-making music.

It was only a few minutes before the dance pit was close to full, and not long before it grew packed. People were getting wild pretty much right away, with some very exhibitive dancing and more than a few glow sticks hurled up in high arcs to fall among the crowd.

The band appeared to be enjoying the crowd as well, which Scott made clear after a rousing performance of “Soul Vaccination.”

Tahoe Onstage“We’re gonna keep this party going now, because this town is real,” he called to the roaring house.

Bandleader Emilio Castillo had some fun with congertgoers during a quick break for the band, asking audience members where they were visiting from and how far back their experience with ToP went. He also shared some Tahoe reminiscences, including sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka napping on a beach midday and playing the evening’s show with a face beet-red from a full sunburn.

Castillo gave his bandmates spirited introductions as they retook to the stage, with none drawing a louder cheer than drummer Dave Garibaldi and bassist Mark van Wageningen, recently recovered from major injuries after being struck by a train in Oakland just more than one year ago.

“We are so glad to have them back with us, healthy and killing it together,” Castillo said with a huge grin.

The fun continued with the full house alternating between spirited gyrations and shooting pictures and video with smartphones. Tower of Power kept the bodies moving with classics such as “Still Be Diggin’ on James Brown,” “So Very Hard to Go,” and the eternal question (according to Castillo), “What is Hip?”

ToP showed yet again why it is such a lovable act, with funky, soulful, high energy music and fun-loving (and love-loving) lyrics and themes. This was a tour-de-force performance as always, with an overpowering wave of drums, bass and horns and Scott’s wildly capable vocals captivating the listeners’ attention and demanding movement from even the most stoic non-dancer. That these guys are playing at this caliber after 50 years is quite remarkable, and very much appreciated.

Taking the stage for a final encore, Castillo was all smiles.

“I’m loving this venue, but I’m loving this crowd even more,” he said, taking up his sax.

The band launched into fan favorite “You’re Still a Young Man,” with the crowd swaying, filming, and singing along, transfixed by Tower of Power.

To say that ToP is “still going strong” would be an understatement verging on the criminal.

– Josh Sweigert

Related story: Emilio Castillo talks 50 years of Tower of Power.

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Marcus Scott leads the way as the vocalist for Tower of Power.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

To see all of Larry Sabo’s photos, click the link.

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Emilio Castillo is the bandleader of Tower of Power.
Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage
Roger Smith, longtime keyboard player for Tower of Power, is a former Lake Tahoe resident.
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Tom Politzer delivers solo on “Time Will Tell.”

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Drummer Dave Garibaldi is back on “ToP.”

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Stephen “Doc” Kupka mans the baritone saxophone.
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Tower of Power trumpet player Adolfo Acosta.

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