Ah, Toto. Unquestionably my favourite band for 15 years solid, before Marillion and Magnum showed up on my radar and beat them down into a (still highly-respectable) 3rd place. After many years of fearing I’d never get to see them live, they somehow also became the band I’d seen live more than any other (that’s ‘only’ seven times, but still...). And yet, undeniably great as they were on all of those occasions, there was always something missing. And that something was keyboardist/vocalist and band founder David Paich, who essentially retired from touring about 6 months before Toto and I first crossed paths in New Caledonia, of all places.
Indeed the Toto that sporadically exists these days is a completely different animal to the one I saw in the past, with only Steve Lukather and Simon Phillips remaining from the late-norties incarnation of the band. The main intent behind the reformation of the band as a touring unit was/is to fundraise for fallen band member Mike Porcaro, who suffers from ALS/Motor Neurone Disease, and so the current line-up reflects this, with brother Steve Porcaro back as second keyboardist for the first time since 1987, and late-80s vocalist Joseph Williams returning to lead vocal duties – along with Paich and Lukather, as Luke pointed out, they’ve known each other since they were about 15 years old, so this is a ‘family and buddies’ version of the group. And about as strong a line-up as they’ve ever had.
The audience at the Hammersmith Apollo was nearly twice as big as I’d seen at a Toto show before, and being used to the band being right up at the front of the stage it was a minor shock for them to be standing so far back when the curtain dropped as Child’s Anthem blasted out across the auditorium. Simon Phillips and his monster drum kit, in particular, seemed to be miles away. This isn’t helped by the fact that Toto are, to use the technical description, ‘a bunch of short-asses’, but never mind, you adjust to these things pretty quickly, and Paich, Lukather and Williams all came out front as often as possible.
With Williams on vocals and no new album to promote, the set was dominated by material from the Fahrenheit and The Seventh One albums, with only Gift of Faith representing their post-80s output. Thankfully that track was played in its entirety (we got a few minutes of it in a medley in 2008) and with Jenny Douglas back as backing vocalist the powerful ending featured on the album was replicated in full. We also got the very best from their overrated blockbuster Toto IV, namely the massive hits Rosanna and Africa (which Luke joked he’d not ‘got’ at the time of recording), but also the two best album cuts, Afraid of Love and Lovers in the Night, sequed together as they appear on the album. Nice.
While it was his era that first made me a fan, I was a little of wary of having Williams back in the band – after all, his voice famously died during The Seventh One tour and his 90s solo albums were decidedly limp (although the album covers of his Tears and Smiles releases, aimed at the Japanese-housewife market, are always good for a chuckle...), but he was wonderful. While he left some of the higher notes for the backup singers and the audience he still went for (and hit with ease) plenty himself, and from his second-song entrance for Till the End any lingering doubts were erased. A particular highlight was his handling of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, which is, of course, a Steve Porcaro-penned tune (and one I’ve always thought Toto should have recorded their own version of, along with the shedload of other hits they’ve written for others over the years, instead of doing that covers album, but I digress...and should probably be over that one by now anyway!)
Being a keyboards fan in general and a Paich-fanatic in particular I was in Heaven with the Paich/Porcaro combo, something I’d not even previously witnessed on DVD, and it did mean I didn’t concentrate on Luke and Simon as much as I had in the past, but that was a sacrifice I was willing to make, at least this once. Having all four on one stage is a little like a seven-course meal, you enjoy it all, but don’t have quite enough time to digest any of it properly. Hmmm.
Possibly because it was a Sunday night, and possibly because they’d randomly bumped into another 15 or so musician friends in their hotel, the band were onstage early (with no support) and with an extended version of Hold the Line (furthering the family theme by having Luke’s son Trevor appear as 2nd guitarist) as the sole encore to close the night, they’d left the stage well before ten, but while anyone in attendance (well, apart from the chap from The Guardian...) would have been happy to have another hour’s worth, they proved that they are still the best AOR band in history – and it seems, even without the benefit of a ‘retro-smash’ a la Don’t Stop Believin’, one that has reached a younger generation, with a huge proportion of under-30s in the crowd. Nice-going guys, way to make me feel old...in any case, not bad for a band that formed in 1977! (10/10)
This show was literally a case of a lifetime’s ambition being fulfilled...some years ago I was on a playwriting workshop with British playwright Simon Stephens...one of the exercises he did was to go around the room and get us all to say one thing we’d like to do, and what might stop us from doing it. As we went around the room the timeframe changed from that day (‘getting a Chinese takeaway’) to a month, to a year and, by the time it got to me, a lifetime. The very earnest chap before me had come out with some guff about wanting to be recognised as an artist, but that would never happen because the whole world was against him (It’s possible I paraphrase...), so something was needed to lighten the mood. *obviously* I had to say that my lifetime’s ambition was to see Toto live with David Paich in the lineup, and it probably wouldn’t happen because he wasn’t playing outside of LA at the time. Apparently I’d proved Simon Stephens’ point for him, as he leapt up excitedly and said, ‘See, that’s a play!’ It turns out, probably not, unless the story of chap moves from cultural backwater to London where stuff is actually on, constitutes a major dramatic plot, but whatever...hahahaha.