This is the only Tower of Power record that I own. I’m not generally familiar with them, but I do enjoy this when I put it on, usually in the background as I do something else. This band makes me think about music school. There are some funk bands whose shadow is cast long and cold over decades of dorky white music students wearing backwards po’ boy caps and open 3-button vests. And I think this goes doubly for the ones from northern California. And I don’t mean that as a knock on Tower of Power at all. Hell, I only halfway mean it as a knock on the well meaning disciples that have been copy-catting their way through the last several decades. I think it comes down to vague ideas like “soul” or “authenticity.” Which I think are just loaded terms we use in instances like this to identify a lacking originality that maybe we can sense but don’t know how to verbalize.
“Down to the Nightclub (Bump City)” is a serviceable, if uninspiring, tune. Short and funky. There’s something about it that makes me think of Dr. Teeth & The Mayhem though.
“You’re Still a Young Man” opens with a sweet horn arrangement. High trumpets and baritone saxes. The whole arrangement is steeped in doo wop, but played by California funk technicians. It’s a nice reminder of the through line from ‘50s vocal and acapella groups to the funk and disco bands of the ‘70s (see: Mayfield, Curtis; Clinton, George).
The band sounds like it’s really having fun playing “What Is Hip?” The rhythm section is locked in with everyone jamming hard. B3 solo full of energy. There really is no feeling like playing live music and connecting with your bandmates in a moment, driven by the paradox of getting lost in yourself while at the same time communicating and feeding off each other.
“Sparkling in the Sand” brings the energy back down. Again you can hear a doo wop influence in the arrangement, though it’s more obscured this time under a jazzier overall feel. There are two bars in the chorus that just kill me, musically (under the lyric “…valleys of…” at about the 1:31 mark). Someone with a better vocabulary for it can tell me what the bass and drums are doing there that I like so much.
It’s funny, between the doo wop influence, the jazzy inflections, occasional off-beats and technical proficiency this record can often sound, to my ears, similar to a lot of Frank Zappa. Though I’m sure the two were approaching their music from very different places.
The entire second side is just the one song, “Knock Yourself Out.” The first sax solo is really fun stuff. Like a cross between a tamer Roland Kirk solo (like say when he’s accompanying on a standard rather than leading) and a two note Neil Young guitar solo with all these yips and jumps thrown in to accent the beat. The B3 section of the keyboard solo is another highlight, with Chester Thompson rocking along hammering out percussive chord rhythms. This eventually gives way as the whole song grinds to a halt for a minute of ethereal, unaccompanied ARP. Then some nice enough, but rudderless gospel organ and finally a bit of a funky clavinet left hand and he’s played with all his toys and can sleep soundly at night knowing that he’s justified in making a roadie carry and set them all up for him every night.
One final note about this live album. It was recorded at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. Did Sacramento die?
Favourite Song: You’re Still a Young Man
Runner-Up: Sparkling in the Sand