Ever know something that few other people do but you are afraid to share that knowledge for fear that it might diminish the value of what you know? At the risk of not being able to get a ticket the next time they come to town, I’ll let you in on a little secret that the Europeans have known for years. As they once again proved on Saturday, September 14, 2013, at the sold out Wild Horse Pass Casino Ovations LIVE! Showroom in Chandler, Toto in concert is really, really good.
You remember Toto right? “Africa,” “Rosanna,” “Hold the Line.” A group of Los Angeles session musicians who had a little high school band and then later got together to perform their own music while still being hired to back up artists like Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Chicago, Lionel Richie, Cher, well, the list is endless. Perhaps you even own one of the 5000 albums that the members of Toto have contributed to either as a song writer, musician, producer, programmer or arranger.
For almost two hours, original Toto members, pianist David Paich, keyboardist Steve Porcaro and guitarist Steve Lukather, along with off and on Toto lead singer Joseph Williams, drummer Simon Phillips (who joined Toto after the death of Toto founder Jeff Porcaro) and bass player Nathan East (now filling in for the ailing Mike Porcaro) plus backup singers Amy Keys and Mabvuto Carpenter put on a clinic of what great musicians can attain. Even if you don’t care for the songwriting of Toto, you can’t deny that when watching them, you are seeing the best of the best at what they do.
One thing that stands out when watching Toto is how the performers seem to really enjoy what they are doing. Perhaps because the Chandler concert was the last of Toto’s 2013 35th Anniversary Tour, there was a sense of relief thus causing the endless, infectious smiles of Lane and Lukather. Perhaps it was drawing energy from the one section of the audience that never sat down that made Williams’ voice grow stronger throughout the night or cause Paich to leave his keyboard and lead the audience in arm movements. When a band is having fun, the audience is going to as well.
The night started out with “On the Run,” a 1991 Toto song found on “Toto XX,” Toto’s compilation album of previously unreleased tracks. Despite the song’s unfamiliarity to all but hardcore Toto fans, the audience was up and eager to embrace the music.
It didn’t take long for the band to pull out two numbers, “Rosanna,” and “I Won’t Hold You Back” from their most popular album, “Toto IV.” The former song had the majority of the audience up, singing and clapping along and featured brief solos by Porcoro, Paich and Lukather while East and Williams did some choreography in front of Phillips’ drum kit. Lukather dedicated the latter song to his mother and the popular ballad’s chorus brought forth vocals from the audience.
Although Toto’s popularity seems to stem more from their love songs, it’s when they perform a rocker like “Falling in Between,” the title track off their last studio album from 2006, that the band really shines. If your image of Toto is a bunch of musicians that play only wimpy love songs, think again. To say Lukather delivered another scorching guitar solo is like saying Lukather breathed during the song. Luke only delivers scorching guitar solos.
A nice dedication to both Jeff and Mike Porcoro followed with “Wings of Time.” The melodic opening gave way to another amazing classic guitar solo by Lukather that brought the crowd to their feet and had Lukather even remark about his pulling out all the stops. His explanation? It was “the last time I’m going to do it for a while.”
Before launching into the Paich/Williams number, “Pamela,” Lukather and Williams talked about their early days when they were first in a band together. Their practice sessions did not always sit well with Williams’ father, John (you might know him from scoring the soundtracks to “Jaws,” or “Star Wars,” or “Indiana Jones”) who would remark “could you keep your little rock band music down, I’m on the phone with Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg.”
The band revealed that the inspiration for the song title “99” was neither by the characters who are numbered found in the George Lucas movie “THX 1138” nor Barbara Feldon’s character on “Get Smart,” but rather was a sexual position. You didn’t have to believe that explanation to enjoy Porcoro’s solo and East’s vocals. As the song came to its quiet end, only Paich remained on stage to perform.
The serenity of “99” and Paich’s piano solo morphed into “White Sister,” another song found on Toto’s second album, “Hydra.” Williams was on fire vocally and his highly animated stage presence once again got the audience clapping along with their heads bobbing. Although the song may not have been the hit single “99” was, the performance of “White Sister” was one of the highlights of the night.
With the crowd now amped, it was no surprise that even those in the balcony were on their feet for “Africa.” Paich didn’t even need to sing the lyrics, the crowd was doing a great job for him. East led the audience in a call and response and as everyone sang back “bah, bah, baddapa, bah,” Luke stood, mid-stage, shredding away, almost lost among all that was going on.
Any thoughts of sitting back down were quashed by Paich’s opening chords to “Hold the Line.” Keys was no longer relegated to back up singer as she came to the front and engaged Williams in a fiery vocal exchange. As East lit up the room with his smile, you could feel that this was not a job for the band, but a celebration.
Toto closed their 2013 tour with a two number encore, “Stop Loving You” and “Home of the Brave.” Phillips, whose stellar drumming can be overlooked when watching Lukather, Paich, Porcoro or East, finally got a chance to break out with his own solo in “Stop Loving You.” Toto may be one of America’s better ambassadors when they spread the word about freedom with “Home of the Brave.”
All you need to know about a Toto performance can be summed up by watching Steve Lukather’s face. He engages the audience with his smile, who in turn, respond with enthusiastic approval, which then ramps up Lukather’s performance even more. There is pure joy in this exchange. It is pure joy watching Toto perform. Just don’t tell anyone. I want to score tickets for next year’s show.
Set List: On the Run/Child’s Anthem/Goodbye Elenore | Hydra | Rosanna | I Won’t Hold You Back | Falling in Between | Wings of Time | Pamela| 99 | White Sister | Africa | Hold The Line | Encore: Stop Loving You (with drum solo) | Home Of The Brave