Photo by Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging

Halloween will never be the same for me. What better way to celebrate an otherworldly weekend than at the gilded, 100 year old, Providence Performing Arts Center with one of the world’s great funk bands, Tower of Power backed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic?

To say this show took my breath away would be an understatement. During their nearly two hour show, Tower of Power dazzled a nearly sold out audience. For 55 years, TOP has put the unk in the funk.

Founded by tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka on the baritone sax, TOP has its roots in the cradle of sixties era San Francisco, and for over a century has risen to the occasion. On that Saturday night at PPAC, one of the best horn sections in the business, including – Adolfo Acosta on the trumpet and Tom Politzer, a double threat tenor and alto sax man – provided an answer to the eternal question ”What is hip?” The answer, Tower of Power.

Along with the Philharmonic, they rode a wave of classic hits that never get old, including the seismic “Soul With A Capital S,” their trademark Oakland Stroke, with drummer David Garibaldi, providing sizzling polyrhythms. And that was just the prelude.

The RI Philharmonic brought the performance to another level. Anchored by conductor Troy Quinn, the orchestral layers provided timeless ballads including “You’re Still A Young Man,” which had the crowd on its feet singing along. As the brilliant guitarist Carlos Santana once told an interviewer, “If you can feel it in your soul, it’s music.” The chemistry between TOP and the Philharmonic created a magic that lingered in my soul long after the show’s end.

As the delirious, soul -craving crowd danced in the aisles, TOP launched into the soul archives with a blistering arrangement of “It’s a Man’s World,” the blockbuster hit by number one soul brother, James Brown.

Bandleader Emilio Castillo wowed the crowd “With Diggin on James Brown,” an up-tempo shout-out to Brown’s 60+ year career. 

Singer Mike Jerel, a winner on The Voice, the NBC smash show, pulled out all the stops with a smoking version of “Soul Vaccination.” His ability to conjure up the vocal phrasings of people like Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder clearly on display.

After the show, RI Philharmonic conductor, Troy Quinn said it best. “Working with the legendary funk band TOP was not only a highlight for the orchestra, but it was also a personal honor to back them up, having been a fan for a long time.”

Tower of Power, the R.I. Philharmonic, and PPAC, now that’s a grand slam.

Walt Slattery, a musician and music writer, has been involved with the arts for more than fifty years, working for the Kennedy Arts Center in DC, among other organizations.