Tower of Power and Average White Band. At the Chumash Casino, Thursday, January 19.
A no-brainer double-header descended on the Chumash Casino ballroom last Thursday, when Tower of Power and the Average White Band brought their tightened-up funk sound to an adoring, infinitely moveable crowd. Among the bands’ connections are handy acronyms — TOP meets AWB — and a legacy of hits helping to define the soul side of the ’70s radio landscape.
That evening, we heard a five-man Average White Band — except for one player, all white (pigment-wise but not stylistically). The saxist sometimes used a harmonizer to fatten up the sound with a virtual horn section, and the band brought the requisite electric slink and exacting 16th-notes delineations on tunes like “Cut the Cake,” “In the Beginning,” and “Pick Up the Pieces.”
TOP has been a regular in this room, giving its third performance here in a little more than a year. It was a bit off its usually high mark this night, presumably due to a case of the missing organist-keyboardist (either because he missed the plane or because of illness, depending on which musician’s explanation one believed). Not only were keyboard parts notable by their absence — like a tooth missing from the band’s signature smile — but the musicians seemed thrown off, as when lead singer Larry Braggs lost his key a couple of times, or when otherwise hot guitarist Jeff Tamalier made a couple of chordal clams, trying to compensate. It’s actually a testament to the band’s taut, interactive sound that an instrumental shift can put a clink in the normally well-oiled machinery.
Even so, TOP generally dished out the high energy and high polish we expect, making it a reliably exciting live act. For one, the dynamic funk-making rhythm section of the virtuoso drummer David Garibaldi and bassist Rocco Prestia is a wonder of the musical world. Santa Barbara’s own Adolfo Acosta, a valuable player in TOP for years now, pulled off a nice, pealing trumpet solo on “What Is Hip.”
Both bands still abide by a fundamental m.o.: the desire “to funkify,” to quote the TOP song; and they did it with panache and attention to funk-making details. Quoting another splinkety TOP song, “Still Be Diggin’ on James Brown,” “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Like, f’rinstance, the timeless appeal of funk played in real time and with stellar musicianship, and with no samplers or digital additives.