I love music. I don’t just like music, I love music. Can’t imagine a world without it. Music has been a significant part of my life for as long as I remember. Music never gets old and it always does it's magic. Last week, I had the chance to hear my favorite band live in Kansas City for the about the 40th time. I’m not exactly sure of the count, but I’m guessing about 40 times.
|"Down on my knees, whole heart in hand"|
In 1985, I saw them for the first time live at the Maintenance Shop on the campus of Iowa State University, where Iowa Public TV recorded the show for public broadcast. I sat right next to the stage and can see myself when I watch the recording of that night. I was blown away. A 5 piece horn section, funky rhythm section, soulful lead singer, intense, almost non-stop music. By then I had every recording TOP had made, but had failed to see them live. I remember feeling as if a “bucket list-once in a lifetime moment” had finally arrived. Imagine my delight when they returned the following year, 1986, and I made it to both shows they performed. Double my luck.
Like so many groups that came out the late 60's, and in TOP's case, the San Francisco scene, the band was not alone in battling their personal demons. Several key members had left or been removed due to substance abuse. Looking back on that night in March of 1985, it is clear that several members, including the leader, Emilio, were still battling those demons. The music was great but they looked rough. I didn’t hear much about the band after those shows and they didn’t release any new music until around 1990 when a CD called “Monster on a Leash” appeared. Keep in mind that this was before the days of the internet so news and updates were not easy to find. I had no idea about what they had been through,but one thing was clear, they were still together or at the least, back together again.
|Tickets from the first 3 TOP shows I saw.|
From that night in 1991, up until last week, I kept listening and going to see TOP whenever I could. I introduced TOP to Georgette by taking her to Minnesota in 1997 where we saw them at a casino and had front row seats. She got her first “Soul Vaccination” up close and personal. I’ve seen them in Iowa, Colorado, California and Virginia. I’ve hung out backstage and chatted with some of the guys and I’ve shared an elevator with some without saying a word. Maybe one of the best moments came when my brother Joe and I did a road trip back to the casino in Minnesota in 1997 for a two-night performance and we found our way into their Saturday afternoon rehearsal where we got to witness the band working some new arrangements into some of their signature numbers. How cool was that?
“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
That lyric is from a TOP tune called, “Diggin on James Brown”. Last Wednesday evening, at a funky blues club called Knuckleheads Saloon, tucked away in an industrial area northeast of downtown Kansas City, the TOP reminded me once again that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” I invited my son-in-law Chan, who lives in KC, since it was a work night and GK didn’t want to make the early morning road trip back up I-29. We had reserved seats that were set back away from the stage, but this was the kind of place where you are meant to stand most of the night. A perfect venue to see and hear live music up close and personal. A small, intimate room where the stage extends and you can get up close from three different vantage points. It wasn’t long after the show began that I wandered up close for a song or two. Then back to my seat for a bit. Then back up for a few more, then back to my seat. Finally, with 4 songs left in the rotation, I told Chan I would see him at the end and worked my way right back up to the edge of the stage, where I spent the rest of the show.
I was in musical heaven. The intensity and energy was off the charts. It could have gone on forever. "James Brown Medley", "So Very Hard to Go"," What is Hip?"- the band was on fire. At times, I just closed my eyes and took it all in. This began so many years ago and here we are again today, 2013. When the time came for the last encore, once again Emilio dedicated “You’re Still a Young Man” to "the the friends of Bill W”. Blessed. Grateful. Lucky. At home. A million emotions and a million musical moments merged to one groove.
|The set list from the TOP gig on March 20, 2013|
“The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same”.
“You’re Still a Young Man, Baby, Don’t Waste Your Time”.