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Tower of Power pack a soulful punch at Carteret concert

New singer Mike Jerel fits right in with veteran soul band
Tower of Power onstage at the Carteret Performing Arts & Events Center on Nov. 18. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Tower of Power onstage at the Carteret Performing Arts & Events Center on Nov. 18. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Having opened nearly one year ago, the Carteret Performing Arts & Events Center in New Jersey still has the showroom shine of a new car.

Tower of Power reached the equivalent of classic-car status decades ago, but the band remain a well-maintained soul-music machine, with new singer Mike Jerel providing a fresh coat of wax.

Left to right: Tower of Power's Tom E. Politzer, Mark van Wageningen, Emilio Castillo, Jerry Cortez and Mike Jerel on Nov. 18 in Carteret, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Left to right: Tower of Power's Tom E. Politzer, Mark van Wageningen, Emilio Castillo, Jerry Cortez and Mike Jerel on Nov. 18 in Carteret, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

TOP brought their fall tour to the pristine Carteret venue Nov. 18, and Jerel was fairly quick to point out his status as, to use his words, “the new guy.” The crowd was a little slow and tepid in responding to Jerel’s between-song banter and even the first few songs, but by the time TOP finished an extended version of the hit “Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream),” which was bolstered by Jerel's vocal ad-libs, the vibe in the crowd was close to the one onstage.

Left to right: Adolfo Acosta, Roger Smith and Mike Bogart on Nov. 18. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Left to right: Adolfo Acosta, Roger Smith and Mike Bogart on Nov. 18. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

The 1973 B side “Soul Vaccination” was an early highlight (how this song didn’t get used in a national campaign during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a missed opportunity on multiple levels). When they played that song’s A side, “This Time It’s Real,” TOP co-founder/second tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo and lead tenor saxophonist Tom E. Politzer swayed with the beat. That type of movement was not in the cards for Stephen “Doc” Kupka, who was unflappable but by no means statuesque: The band co-founder and baritone saxophonist did doff his hat and wave upon being introduced (with great reverence) by the loquacious Castillo. And during “So Very Hard to Go,” Kupka joined fellow horn players Castillo, Politzer, Adolfo Acosta and Mike Bogart in providing synchronized finger snaps and arm sweeps during the verses.

Stephen "Doc" Kupka. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Stephen "Doc" Kupka. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Castillo nearly stole the show as the frontman on the fun and funky “Diggin’ on James Brown” (from 1995’s Souled Out), and Politzer took full advantage of drummer David Garibaldi’s relentless groove in “What Is Hip?” by moving to the front of the stage to play a long, energetic sax solo.

Tower of Power’s fall U.S. tour wraps up with shows in Collingswood, New Jersey, on Nov. 19 and Tarrytown, New York, on Nov. 20.

David Garibaldi. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

David Garibaldi. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)