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Toto dazzles Poland with 35th Anniversary concert on DVD

Toto: The 35th Anniversary - Live in Poland DVD


Okay, it’s time I fessed up: Back in 1988 I nicked a cassette copy of Toto’s The Seventh One from the local library.

TOTO rock the Atlas Arena in Lodz, Poland for 35th Anniversary.
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Steve Lukather and Nathan East bless the rains down in Africa.
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To be clear, I didn’t check it out: I stole it. A Toto tape. From a library.

And never brought it back.
Might even still have it someplace.

See, I was an impressionable young lad back when Toto charted with “Roseanna” and “Africa,” rocking my prepubescent world with their exotic polyrhythms and insane vocal harmonies. I wasn’t aware at the time (1982) that these were the same cats responsible for “Hold the Line” and “I’ll Supply the Love,” but something about those Toto IV smashes told me I’d dig the band’s entire catalog.

I missed out on follow-up albums Isolation and Fahrenheit (notwithstanding the radio single “I’ll Be Over You”), but when I saw that purple-hued Seventh One nestled in the racks that day…mine.

Curious (and I assure you uncharacteristic) behavior.

But I played the f@ck out of that tape and loved every tune on it, from “Pamela” and “You Got Me” through “Home of the Brave.” Heck, Yes singer Jon Anderson even makes a cameo appearance on the album, scatting during an instrumental break on the gorgeous power ballad “Stop Loving You” [Don’t bother listening for the “Roundabout” singer on the Past to Present: 1977-1990 (Greatest Hits) version of the song; Anderson’s only on The Seventh One album version.].

Who knows how many folks have been deprived of total Toto listening pleasure because of my pilfering? Hopefully this piece is sufficient atonement; if the number of eyes finding these words constitutes even a fraction of the number of ears my contraband cassette would’ve graced, I’ll consider it penance done.

I’ve since purchased The Seventh One—and other subsequent Toto efforts—on CD.
But yeah, sorry, Mr. Lukather. I was a baaad boy.

We’re long removed from the era of Toto’s radio reign (and my crime), but the L.A. based band is still cooking. Sure, the lineup has transmogrified over the decades, as with most long-running musical groups—but the core dudes we all remember hearing on record are still present and accounted for (unlike my library’s Seventh One cassette).

The band marked a major milestone while touring last Europe last year: Captured for release on video, Toto 35th Anniversary Tour—Live in Poland documents an incendiary summer show in Lodz, Poland, where cofounding and recurring members David Paich (keys), Steve Lukather (guitar), Steve Porcaro (keys), and Joseph Williams (vocals) dazzled a capacity crowd with hits and buried treasures from throughout their prolific career.

Shot with multiple cameras (stationary and steadicam) from a variety of dramatically choice angles, the concert film from June 25, 2013 serves not only as a consummate standalone rock and roll entertainment experience, but as a reminder of why Toto mattered back in the ‘70s and ‘80s—and remains just as relevant today.

The Eagle Rock release is also available on Blu-Ray, and as a 2-CD audio-only version.
Following a suitably symphonic musical intro, Toto christens the stage with a medley of “On the Run,” “Child’s Anthem,” and “Goodbye Elenore.” Apart from riling up the Polish fans who witnessed the actual event, Toto’s energetic opening mash-up acclimates viewers at home to what we’ll be looking at for the next two hours: Paich and Porcaro man keyboards at opposite ends of the stage, but facing one another—like bookends. A pleasing symmetry / contrast is thereby achieved, with the stead Paich handling most of the piano parts and a standing Porcaro conjuring lush synth bits and string / brass samples. Ergonomically sandwiched between, Lukather fills the guitar / vocal slot and drummer Simon Phillips occupies a double-kick kit, albeit slightly elevated, with bassist Nathan East thumping his five-string nearby. Background singers Amy Key and Mabvuto Carpenter are slightly obscured behind Paich and “Luke”—but both get a chance to step forth and shine later.

Written in 1989 but shelved until Toto XX nine years later, “Goin’ Home” gives Williams his first major vocal workout. The pairing of “Hydra” (sung by Paich) and “St. George and the Dragon” (sung by Williams) unravels the story of a hero and mythical monster—and showcases the band members’ virtuosic chops.

Often overlooked in the annals of guitar godliness (perhaps because he’s spent a majority of his working life playing in a band not named after him), Lukather evinces a “feel” that rivals the blues greats yet possesses a technical proficiency that puts him on par with rock “shredders” like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and even his ol’ pal, Eddie Van Halen. Luke swaps versions of his Music Man Luke III signature guitar throughout the evening, going from “Bhodi blue” and “true gold” to an “emerald sparkle” model. Later, he brandishes an axe whose body is adorned with images of Sammy Davis, Jr.

Luke turns in a soulful—if somewhat shaky—lead vocal on “I’ll Be Over You,” but his pipes improve over time, and he rises to the occasion for “Better World” (the sole offering from 1999’s Mindfields). His guitar playing is unassailable, even when he busts out an acoustic—as on the smoky “99.”

The only participant free to roam the stage, Williams struts and shuffles about, drawing the crowd into the action and lifting blues rocker “It’s a Feeling” to another level with his impressive range. The sunglassed, beret-wearing singer also excels on the progressive, Indian-flavored “Falling in Between” (from the band’s most recent studio album) and the funky “White Sister.” The son of famous film composer John Williams, Joseph replaced lead singer Bobby Kimball in the mid-‘80s and has maintained close ties with Luke and the band ever since. His operatic rock vocals were the band’s secret weapon for The Seventh One.

Watch a teaser of Toto performing "Hold the Line:"

The back-tracks and buried treasures are sterling, but any one of the Toto hits alone is worth the DVD’s asking price. Arriving at the 40-minute mark, “Rosanna” features both Lukather and Williams on vocals, with Paich contributing background harmony while tickling the ivories (which at one very cool point are reflected in his shades). The primal rhythms of “Africa” prompt en masse arm-waving. Here, Paich takes lead vocal, deferring to Williams for the upper-register half of the refrain (“Gonna take a lot to take me away from you…”). Nathan East steers the tune into audience participation territory, thumping his bass and using his own remarkable voice to engage the crowd with his sung travelogue of African / Caribbean destinations. “Pamela” and “Stop Loving You” likewise become protracted jams (wherein Phillips unleashes a fluid, percussive mini-solo), and Williams somehow manages to get the thousands in attendance to echo his refrains in uplifting call-and-response manner. Keys and Carpenter join the “brothers” up front for grand finale “Hold the Line,” the latter playfully sparring with Williams on the stratospheric lead vocal.

The concert’s mix (Dolby Surround 5.1 / Stereo) is sublime and the lighting schemes are cinematic yet tasteful, augmenting Toto’s shifting musical moods without drawing undue attention. Subtle wardrobe changes occur throughout the set: Lukather and Williams appear to have suddenly changed shirts midway, and Paich trades his top hat for a baseball cap. One guesses the film editors trimmed the downtime needed for any costume considerations. Some spots feature split screens (both horizontally and vertically-oriented) to display two or more musicians at once. A handful of these cuts are rendered in black and white. Mini-cams perched on (Phillips) or around (Paich) the players are downright neat, producing close-up images that’ll make spectators feel like they’re onstage with the gang, maybe peering over Paich’s shoulder or sharing the drum stool with Phillips.

Another interesting note: If one looks closely enough, the three concentric rings on the Toto backdrop resemble a skull, with the openings in the rings comprising eyes, nose, and mouth.
A 20-minute bonus documentary reintroduces the Toto titans, traces their mutual history, and catches us up with current events. Paich dishes on how technology has changed over the years (“I miss the Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and Hammond organ!”). Porcaro sets the record straight about starting off as session players for Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan (“We were a high school band first.”). Lukather marvels how they’ve all stayed together for so long despite attrition, and pays homage to late drummer Jeff Porcaro, who started the group with Paich. The band also salutes injured reserve bassist brother Mike Porcaro, whose cause (ALS / Lou Gehrig’s Disease) continues to galvanize them today.

Individually, the members have performed on thousands of albums—yet they create a distinct sound whenever they convene as Toto: “When you take all these styles and put them in an imaginary blender, there’s just that special chemistry,” surmises Luke.
The band has a new album in the works and 2014 set for Japan. They’ll play select dates in North America—including a few with their buddy, Michael McDonald—in late summer. For now, Live in Poland will sate your Toto fix.

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