Photo from www.larrybraggs.net
Larry Braggs sure knows how to make a parting impression.
After 14 years, he is leaving Tower of Power at the end of this year. He’s had the longest tenure of any vocalist with the 45-year-old Oakland funk band. And he is inarguably the best. He proved it again Wednesday night as TOP began a four-night stand at the Dakota Jazz Club.
In the 90-minute late show, Braggs was on fire – as a nimbly soulful vocalist and a charming, trash-talking chatterbox.
He made fun of the Vikings, the Petersons musical family, the burgundy faux-fur coat of Minneapolis musician Jellybean Johnson (who was in the crowd) and a front-row woman who brought a book to read. He even toyed with the band’s fill-in bass player, Mark VW (Braggs couldn’t pronounce the Dutch surname of the sub for Rocco Prestia, who is awaiting a kidney transplant). And, of course, Braggs took a shot at our weather because TOP had arrived directly from Hawaii.
But Braggs, a soul showman with elastic limbs and voice, also came to play. Backed by a funky band with a crisp, often jazzy horn section (led by cofounder Emilio Castillo), he sang his heart out, finding the ecstasy on “Me and Mrs. Jones” and mining the funk on an 18-minute James Brown salute during which he brought up Johnson on guitar and Ricky Peterson on keyboards.
Braggs may have been at his best, though, on “So Very Hard To Go,” the hit ballad from TOP’s 1970s heyday. He was suave and soulful and a little sad. For Tower of Power fans, it is going to be so very hard to see him go.
Braggs says he will work on a couple of solo projects and write a book. Meanwhile, he and Tower of Power perform again at 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the Dakota.