Toto | Review
Waterfront Hall, Belfast • Saturday 7 April ’18
Words by Elizabeth McGeown • Photos: Tremaine Gregg
It’s been 42 years since Toto formed in 1976 and 40 years since the release of their first album, Toto in 1978. The band have embarked upon their most extensive world tour in years, calling it 40 Trips Around The Sun.
42 years have seen a lot of lineup changes, of course with departures and reunions, dramatic firings and the sad deaths of former bassist Mike Porcaro from Motor Neurone Disease in 2015 and former occasional vocalist Fergie Frederiksen in 2014. Despite the longevity of the act though, and the fact other acts of this tenure often tour with a piecemeal membership of people not even old enough to remember the band’s glory days the core lineup for tonight remains for the most part blissfully untouched. Songwriter and keyboardist David Paich is credited with having the idea of starting the band in the first place and there he sits, behind a grand piano, beside a hat stand of top hats that he swaps when the mood takes him, often at the high point of songs. Grant High School buddies of Paich: Steve Porcaro on keys and Steve Lukather on vocals and guitars stand proud on the Waterfront stage also, along with 1979 veteran Lenny Castro on percussion. Joe Williams is something of a late bloomer, having had his heyday with the band from 1986-89 but only 30 trips around the sun are still enough to secure him and his lead vocals in the cement of the band’s firmament. They’re joined by Warren Ham of 1986-88 vintage on harmonica, saxophone, flute and occasional air piano when the excitement grabs him; Shannon Forrest, a relative newcomer on drums having only joined in 2014 and brand newbie Shem von Schroeck on bass and, as Lukather says: “singing all those high bits.”
‘Alone’ kicks off the proceedings and those proceedings are a melodic masterclass through rock, easy-listening, funk, jazz and prog. The spotlight falls on Paich for the familiar drilling piano of ‘Hold The Line’ and Castro merrily tambourines away in his enclosure filled to the brim with percussion: amongst them a marimba, congas and spectacularly, a gong. New song ‘Spanish Sea’ is introduced and it’s here the formula becomes clear: drums that sound uncommonly like ‘Africa’ are tribal in their nature, padding along a steady beat. A five part harmony makes us quickly count the microphones on stage and yes, it’s definitely five raise it above a cheap copy. ‘I Will Remember’ brings in reverb-drenched jungle drums and “Oh-oh-oh-oh” that’s reminiscent of every 80s movie montage ever with some power synth just to reinforce the decade. ‘Rosanna’ is introduced as a party song and they’re not wrong, vocals shared between Lukather and Williams, each taking the octave they feel comfortable with. The piano breakdown radio DJs usually cut off before the end is played in full and then some, a synth solo straight from outer space is added on and the audience are indeed partying.
Toto fulfil a concert wish most audience members have for every band: The band shift positions, most sitting down and assume storytelling pose as a medley of songs is performed and interspersed with stories on how they were written. Who doesn’t feel satisfied now knowing that ‘Human Nature’ was originally written by Steve Porcaro (while the rest of the band were downstairs doing the final mix of ‘Africa’, no less) explaining to his daughter Heather that school bullies were just, well, acting on human nature? The song circuitously found its way onto Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The elder statesmen take their turns, telling their tales and there’s yet more giddy excitement when Lukather announces a “Deep cuts section” where those rarities the band haven’t played on tour in over 30 years rear their heads. It’s tough to see why they are rarities really; ‘Angela’ begins with flute in a wonderfully gentle way, exploding as of course it must into classic rock. ‘Lion’ with its upbeat syncopation hasn’t been played live on tour since 1985 and a certain subset of the audience are giddy to hear ‘Desert Theme’ from David Lynch’s 1984 science fiction film Dune, the tune every inch as charismatic and otherworldly as you’d expect, with crashing classical piano and effect-laden guitar, with those trademark padding drums again. Steve Lukather introduces a cover of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ which they haven’t done since the 25th anniversary tour, dedicating it of course to George Harrison who he says is the reason he picked up a guitar in the first place. You can see why he chose it; this love song to a guitar played on a guitar is a labour of love for Lukather, the intricate solo he weaves both transcending yet never forgetting the source material.
No-one is really lucid enough to synchronise their watches at the beginning of ‘Africa’, all we know is Lukather asks us if we want to hear “That song” and yes, we want to hear that song. Castro is granted a solo as the partial creator of the soundscape and goes to town, having the most fun anyone has ever had with a giant cymbal and gong. Just when we think the energy is ebbing Williams leads us in a Freddie Mercury-style call and response while Castro vocalises over and above us. Perhaps unnecessarily there’s an encore after this epic which must have lasted more than ten minutes. Lukather leads with an acoustic for ‘The Road Goes On’ and although unnecessary, it’s not overkill. The band line up at the front of the stage and take our applause. Another 40 trips around the sun are unlikely, in all honesty, but here’s to as many as the band can muster!