Tonight at Alive at Five, Tower of Power will do what they always do: play super-funky soul music with unmatched skill, tireless enthusiasm and the unifying centrifugal force of a cherished mission.
They did this at Alive at Five in 2003 despite sideways rain and at The Egg in 2006 despite a stiff audience. And I saw them do it in New Orleans last year: Making their JazzFest debut, in a town full of ace horn players, whose streets seem to throb with funk backbeats, they earned new fans by the thousands. Nobody sat down after halfway through the first song. On the same stage where hometown hero Trombone Shorty had ripped it up hours before, Tower of Power, the pride of Oakland, put it all back together.
Tower of Power generates an amazing amount of melodic and harmonic action up front from five horns, a guitar or two, keyboards and Larry Braggs, the best singer the band has ever had. But I learned at their last Alive at Five gig — watching from onstage, just a few feet behind him — that drummer David Garibaldi is the driver of this bus, with bassist Rocco Prestia helping to steer.
The Out of Control Rhythm & Blues Band — one of thousands of bands inspired by Tower of Power (another was led by Sting, pre-Police) — opens for Tower of Power at 5 p.m. Albany’s Riverfront Amphitheatre is the nice-weather site and the Corning Preserve boat launch is the rains ite. It’s free, but priceless.
Four shows in a row last week, and all at least good.
— On Wednesday, Mark Eitzel sang great at WAMC with just pianist Mark Capelle and not his band the American Music Club. When a fan handed him a note, he stuffed it down his pants. Fans yelled, “READ it!” so he tugged it out and read aloud, “Your fly is open.” He peeled the WAMC bumper sticker off his chest and placed it over the gap, kind of sealing it, and sang on, great.
— On Thursday, I got a phone tip that Jackson Browne had come to town a day early to catch his longtime guitarist David Lindley at the newly reopened and, as it turned out, quite fantastic, Van Dyck. Lindley played in Browne’s band for a decade and has played the Van Dyck several times since, sometimes with percussionist Wally Ingram but played solo on Thursday, wielding more instruments than most music stores carry.
He played the Turkish saz on Steve Earle’s country-rocking “Copperhead Road” and Greek bouzouki on the deep bluegrass blues “The State of Arkansas” and Levon Helm’s similarly deep-rooted “Dirt Farmer,” for example. And who can describe what Lindley did on “Meth Lab Boyfriend,” a tribute to composer Harry Partch? But it was as hypnotizing as everything else.
The buzz was on that Jackson would play, but he didn’t, telling Van Dyck staff afterward in a near whisper that he wanted to protect his voice. Lindley was positively great anyway. One of contemporary music’s most eccentric talents, a riff magnet for every guitarist in town, Lindley was outrageously good as usual, playing as no one else can and singing in a voice from Neptune.
It was wonderful in all ways: amazing music, a full house — including every guitarist with no gig that night, fine service and food — just like the place always should have worked but never did before. It’s back, and better than ever. Check out Lindley’s well-named new live album “Big Twang” for a taste of what he did last Thursday; and check out the new Van Dyck.
— On Friday at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Jackson Browne (who can be hot or luke-warm) played probably better than I’ve ever seen him because he’s added two amazing singers — Chavonne Morris and Alethea Mills — to the same super-solid band he’s led for 16 years.
If the first set was a bit too laid-back, the second sizzled, especially when Morris and Mills lifted up “Doctor My Eyes” and “Lives in the Balance.” At the end, Michael Eck, my counterpart at the Times Union and no great fan of L.A. soft rock, acknowledged it was pretty good. Then he shook his head and said, “But he’s no Mark Eitzel. I checked him out and he had his fly up for the whole show!”
— Dr. John was even better on Saturday at The Egg, with Al Kooper opening. My wife, Ellie, was terribly disappointed that she couldn’t go: She stayed home to take care of our daughter Pisie who had all four wisdom teeth pulled on Friday and needed lots of TLC. Ellie forlornly asked me to get his autograph, not believing it would be possible because it usually isn’t.
Splendid in scarlet pinstriped suit, black shirt and gray fedora over his braided, beaded hair, Dr. John played the coolest New Orleans music I’ve heard since Dumpstaphunk played here last winter. Zigaboo Modeliste (of the Meters) was playing his first gig with Dr. John, filling in for the regular drummer who’s recovering from surgery. Zigaboo was tremendous. With effortless backbeat mastery, thunderous accents and a huge or gentle sound, he was absolutely on it, no matter what Dr. John wanted to do.
The show ran late, so I had to write and send my review while they were still playing. Dr. John’s (superb) soundman Jerry Manuel saw me struggling to read my notes, came over and handed me the setlist of songs; really, really nice. After the show, Jerry saw me and called out, “Come to the stage door; come say ‘Hey!’ to Mac.” (Dr. John’s real name is Mac Rebennack.) Jerry led me into the dressing room full of musicians: Al Kooper, Dr. John and both their bands. I told Dr. John that Ellie was his biggest fan but that she couldn’t make it, and I asked him to autograph the setlist for her. He wrote, “To Ellie, LUV–Dr. John the Night Tripper,” the name under which he released his early albums. The next morning, Ellie asked, “Did you get Dr. John’s autograph for me?” I answered, “Oh, I don’t know,” in a negative, downbeat way; then I handed it to her, and she gave me the most incandescent smile. It was the best moment of a good stretch of music.
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at mailto:[email protected]
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