It was a night of reminiscing at the Greek Theatre during the Memorial Day holiday weekend when WAR, Tower of Power and the Average White Band came to Los Angeles for an evening of playing the kind of enduring funk-fused music that is missing from today’s genre.
All three bands hit all the right notes and played all the right songs to send the sellout crowd Saturday night into a state of musical seduction with their sounds of yesterday. When you think of WAR, Tower of Power and the Average White Band, you think of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, when large bands were the rage and the country’s identification went through shifts of changes.
From the Vietnam War and resistance movement of the 60s to the disco era of the 70s, and then the freedom of expression times of the 80s, these bands reigned.
It is within those three decades the three multi-layered groups etched their names as generational musicians. Good music is hard to come by these days. WAR, Tower of Power and the Average White Band made the kind of music during those periods that has sustained the times and is still widely accepted today.
The good thing is they are still around to give the 40-and-older generation the kind of music they could sit back, listen and reflect on. But the great thing about good music it is that is able to cross generation lines and remove all kinds of stuck up boundaries. WAR, Tower of Power and the Average White Band proved as much in their live performance.
As the headliner of the three and a half hour show, WAR brought back some sweet nostalgia and sentimentality as it pumped out a flashcard of its greatest hits. A group that refused to be lumped into one music category, WAR is all over the place with its own unique sound.
As WAR closed out the evening with an ambitiously energetic and satisfying performance, one could not help but be impressed with the musical dynamics that makes this band great.
WAR isn’t a group that can be categorized or be put in a box. That would be too simple. It’s way too easy to say that WAR is an R&B band. And that would be inaccurate. As it unleashed a string of its most celebrated hits such as “Low Rider,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” “Spill the Wine,” “Cisco Kid,” and the dreamy cut “Slipping into Darkness, WAR brought their Latin-funk card with them and unleashed their rock, reggae and soul sound as well.
In 2008, WAR celebrated 40 years as a group. The band sounded as good live as they did when listening to 8-track tape systems was the norm. Just like their musical brethren, Tower of Power, which preceded WAR, is a group that cannot be easily defined. Just like WAR, the longevity of Tower of Power is largely due to the kind of music the band has produced for over 44 years.
Since 1968, the well-tuned group from Oakland, California that showcases a plethora of horn players that make up one of the best rhythm sections around, has laid down the type of grooves that keep your fingers steadily popping and your feet in constant tapping mode.
There were plenty of that going on at the Greek as Tower of Power lead singer Larry Braggs and one of the group’s founding members- saxophonist Emilio Castillo-kept the crowd moving with their high-level vocal display. Tower of Power played up to its urban funky jazz sound as they belted out “You’re Still a Young Man,” “What is Hip?” and the up tempo tune “You Got to Funkifize.”
Of course, the evening would not have been what it was if the Average White Band had not hit the stage to set the tone of the show. The Average White Band wasted little time getting people on their feet. As concertgoers were still walking in to their seats the Average White Band was already in high-performance mode.
Old-school and funky, the Average White Band almost brought down the house when they dropped and then grooved to their signature song, “Pick up the Pieces.” All three bands did what they do best: play music and let others enjoy themselves. That’s what old-school music is about.