Lenny Williams - lead vocals; Francis "Rocco" Prestia - bass; Bruce Conte - guitar, vocals; Chester Thompson - keyboards; David Garibaldi - drums; Emilio Castillo - tenor sax, vocals; Stephen "Doc" Kupka - baritone sax, vocals; Lenny Pickett - flute, clarinet and saxes, vocals; Mic Gillette - trumpet, trombone, vocals; Greg Adams - trumpet, flugelhorn
After several years of establishing themselves as one of the most high energy Bay Area bands, with a horn section second to none, Tower of Power were poised for the big breakthrough. The group had recruited keyboardist extraordinaire Chester Thompson, and were now fronted by lead vocalist Lenny Williams as they began recording exciting new material for their third album. This early 1973 concert captures the new lineup on a bill that also featured the Bar-Kays and Curtis Mayfield, providing the audience with an evening of soulful funk at its best.
Showcasing the compositional talent of new keyboardist, Chester Thompson, they kick things off with a ferociously funky instrumental to warm things up called "Check It Out." With the exception of the encore, the group primarily focuses on material from their previous album, Bump City, when they aren't introducing the fine new material destined for their third album. Several of the most powerful songs from Bump City are here, including "You Strike My Main Nerve" and "You Got To Funkifize," as well as the highly Motown-influenced "You're Still A Young Man," which would eventually become one of Tower of Power's signature songs and biggest hits.
However, it is the new material that really stands out here. The band's enthusiasm for the new songs is fully warranted, as they were composing much of the material that would capture the world's attention and that would, in hindsight, become some of their most popular songs for decades to come. The intense rhythmic formula, with tight horn section and captivating vocal arrangements, was perfected during this stage of the band's development. "What Is Hip," "Down To The Nightclub," and "Clean Slate" are all featured during this performance, and it is obvious they are on to something special. Also included is an early live rendition of "So Very Hard To Go," a song featuring an undeniably-infectious vocal arrangement that would soon become another Top-40 hit for the band.
Also of note is the band's tribute to headliner Curtis Mayfield when they perform his classic "You Want Somebody Else" mid set. They mention that they often played this in the earliest days of the band, but this is the only known live performance preserved for posterity.
For the encore, they reach back to their debut album, recorded for Bill Graham's fledgling Fillmore Records label, with a pummeling funk-fest on "Knock Yourself Out." There's plenty of tight jamming here that must have had the audience up on their feet and dancing; it's a perfect closer to prepare the audience for headliner, Curtis Mayfield, who was also on a roll with the previous year's release of the soundtrack recordings from Superfly.
The group had always been one of the most impressive Bay Area bands from an instrumental standpoint, but with Lenny Williams aboard, they finally struck a perfect balance between vocals and instrumentation. This performance captures that magic, just as everything was beginning to truly gel, making this one of the most captivating Tower of Power performances ever captured on tape.
Archivist's Note: The fade-out / fade-in you hear in the middle of "Clean Slate" was inserted due to a complete dropout on the original tape.