Average White Band & Tower of Power, The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA, 10/20/2018; Defying the Odds, These Two Bands Somehow Manage To Outdo Themselves Every Time
Photo courtesy of Average White Band
This is a special pairing of two bands that are each headliners in their own right. They both live on the road, and since they record new albums very infrequently, they both earn their keep playing live. As they often do, their tour schedules coincided at The Keswick on Saturday, October 20th.
I've seen these bands many times, both separately and co-billed. Historically, Tower of Power has always been the larger band in terms of their number of musicians. As such, I think that the order of performance is pre-ordained.
It's been about five years since I last saw the Average White Band (AWB). Up to that point they had been a five piece. The then-newest member, Klyde Jones, was such a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer that I couldn't imagine the band without him. When he left to spend more time with his family, AWB ultimately added three new members, a lead vocalist and two keyboard players (one of which doubles on sax). As much as I loved the previous version, this "new and improved" model played such a killer set at The Keswick that my jaw just dropped in awe.
In addition to their performing talent, one of AWB's most important qualities is the strength of their material. They rarely release a new album, but they did make one in 2018, Inside Out; and what with their new personnel it seemed like a show not to miss. I was floored by the quantity and the quality of the songs they fit into their roughly hour long opening set. Check out the setlist, below.
There was no shortage of dynamite falsetto vocals in either "A Love of Your Own" or "Walk On By", Jones' departure not withstanding. "Cut the Cake" has always been a delicious slice of funk, but the version they laid down at The Keswick was easily one of the funkiest things I have ever heard (watch video, below). You can also watch AWB pull out all the stops on the new beefier version of their standby "Pick Up the Pieces"; this new mix can also be heard on Inside Out.
Watch "Cut the Cake"
"Walk on By"
"Stop the Rain"
"Pick Up the Pieces"
The Average White Band consists of:
Alan Gorrie (lead vocals, bass, guitar)
Onnie McIntrye (guitar)
Fred "Freddy V" Vigdor (tenor sax, keyboards)
Rocky Bryant (drums)
Brent Carter (lead vocals)
Cliff Lyons (alto sax, keyboards)
Rob Aries (keyboards, bass)
Average White Band Website
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Photo courtesy of Tower of Power
Like AWB, Tower of Power also released a new album in 2018, Soul Side of Town. That, together with the fact that Tower of Power has changed lead vocalists since the last time I saw them, made this an opportune time to go. I had been impressed with Larry Braggs on the lead vocals so many times that it was hard to imagine Tower of Power without him. With all due respect to James Brown, since he's left us, I truly believed that Braggs had earned the title of the hardest working man in show business.
All you have to do is give a listen to their latest album to realize that the new lead vocalist, Marcus Scott, is the real deal. He is not only super talented but on the album it seems like his presence has rejuvenated the entire band. The horn arrangements sound a little jazzier, and this could be my imagination, but all of the players seem to have a little more pep in their step.
At the Keswick, Tower of Power did their full set and everyone sounded amazing as they played a great batch of songs, including some numbers from the new album. The setlist (shown below) speaks for itself; if you are familiar with their music the one word abbreviations shouldn't throw you.
During the concert, Emilio Castillo talked about this year (2018) being their 50th anniversary as a band. He said there had been a big 50th anniversary concert in their hometown of Oakland, CA and that a good many of the band's alumni came back to play. Castillo said that they were putting the finishing touches on a DVD of the show, which would be out soon. He further surprised and delighted the crowd with the news that they had already recorded their next album and to look for it to be released sometime in 2019.
Their performance was so good, and the songs they played were so "hip", that they once again blew the roof off the Keswick and demonstrated why no one in their right mind would want to go on after them. In the following video, listen to the purity and strength of the trumpet's tone and the soulful power of Scott's vocal on one of Tower of Power's signature tunes. This is how you do it.
Watch "You're Still A Young Man"
"Soul Side of Town"
"This Time Is For Real"
Tower of Power consists of:
Emilio Castillo (tenor sax, lead vocals)
Stephen "Doc" Kupka (baritone sax)
Tom E. Politzer (tenor sax)
Adolfo Acosta (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Sal Cracchiolo (trumpet)
Marcus Scott (lead vocalist)
Roger Smith (keyboards, background vocals)
Jerry Cortez (guitar, vocals)
Francis Rocco Prestia (bass)
David Garibaldi (drums)
Tower of Power Website
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Tower of Power Facebook
Setlist Photos: Bev Kates/Lindsey Mitchell