Toto @ The Fox Theater, Visalia CA 09/08/13
I just want to say this gig rocked sweet balls! I have a new found admiration and respect for this group. I ignorantly wrote them off as a 70s/80s adult contemporary group (sappy ballads and fluffy pop music). But they are definitely more than that, and they’re a lot more than the guys that do “Africa” and “Rosanna.” First, some background…
Toto is comprised of a core membership of ace studio musicians and gunslinger songwriters: Particularly Steve Lukather on Guitar, David Paich and Steve Porcoro on keyboards. Toto are both praised and criticized for their studio musician background. Some applaud their technical proficiency and spotless production while others criticize them for sounding too polished and for lacking a solid identity (too many singers, too many genres). Few people realize, but the guys in Toto were part of Michael Jackson’s studio band for the Thriller album. “Human Nature” is a Steve Porcoro written tune, with David Paich playing keyboards and Steve Lukather on Guitar and bass. And on “Beat It,” while Eddie Van Halen provided the blistering guitar solo, it’s Steve Lukather that provided the signature guitar riff for the song. Greg Phillinganes also worked on the Thriller album. In 2007 he would join Toto as their main keyboard player, temporarily replacing David Paich. Health issues and age have caused various band members to retire from touring from time to time (and in Jeff Porcoro’s case, he sadly passed away), leading to the involvement of high profile replacement players who are big names in the business in their own right (Simon Phillips, Nathan East, Leland Sklar, Greg Phillinganes, etc.) This time around, bassist Mike Porcoro has medically retired due to ALS. The ALS Society was on hand to raise awareness and collect donations. It is also a blessing that Toto is even active in the first place. In 2008, following Mike Porcoro’s diagnosis, Steve Lukather officially broke up the band, citing disillusionment that he was the only remaining original member. He said something along the lines of “I can’t continue calling this group Toto and still keep a straight face.” Lukather added that the band simply isn’t Toto without David Paich and at least one Porcoro brother participating. Now the group is back, in support of Mike Porcoro, with Paich and Steve Porcoro returning to the fold. It’s comforting to see one of the Porcoro brothers onstage.
About their performance at The Fox, the level of musicianship was ASTOUNDING. I was very impressed and I’m sure there were several jaws dropped. Every player had magic fingers, doing things on their instruments that appeared super human. These guys are master musicians, and they could most likely outplay guys half their age. The high quality vocal work was also very impressive. Paich, Lukather and Joseph Williams traded off on lead vocal duties, often taking turns within the same song a’ la “Rosanna,” like a game of musical tag. Each one of these guys has a great singing voice with a smooth delivery, very crystalline, very compelling and sweet sounding. Paich possessed a commanding, lower pitched voice, which is a great contrast to Williams’ high tenor. And Lukather’s voice was somewhere in the middle, a smooth and pleasant timbre perfect for pop rock. I was amazed, watching these guys trade off lead vocal parts like that, giving different types of color and personality to the songs. Joseph Williams was responsible for co-writing and singing lead on “Pamela.” Supposedly original vocalist Bobby Kimball had trouble pulling off those vocal parts in “Pamela” when he toured with the band in the late 90s. Joseph can sing Bobby’s parts with no problem, but Bobby has trouble pulling off Joseph’s parts. Seems Like Joseph Williams can hold his own and then some.
Some fans may not realize but on this tour Joseph Williams was on lead vocals, not original lead singer Bobby Kimball (the high voice on “Africa” and “Rosanna”). The lead singer spot has been a constant revolving door, with both Kimball and Williams departing and returning to the group on several occasions. However, Joseph Williams did an impressive job, soaring and belting out those runs with ease. A sweet high tenor, and he was able to imitate Kimball’s style well, he sounded just like Bobby on selections like “Hold the Line,” “Africa” and “Rosanna,” practically indistinguishable. Joseph Williams is the son of film composer John Williams (Superman…Indiana Jones…Star Wars!!!). Musical talent is in his blood.
The group was unbelievably tight. They could probably pull off the more difficult selections in their sleep. There were lots of unison parts, insane guitar and piano solos, complicated interplay between the two keyboard players, and amazing singing and drum parts. Lukather is a monster guitar player with skill and feel that rivals virtuosos like Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani. He TORE IT UP. Drummer Simon Phillips had his own fan section in the audience it seemed. When Lukather introduced the band, Phillips got a rousing cheer from the crowd, lots of dudes shouting with raised fists. Phillips has also played with The Who and Joe Satriani. I got to meet him at the 2004 NAMM show in Anaheim, and he was one of the most gracious and humble musicians with whom I got to interact. We had a nice conversation about living in California and drums in general. His drum kit is MASSIVE. It was a double bass kit, 7 toms, 2 or 3 snares, 4 octobans, and a mess of cymbals including two sets of hi-hats. I believe his main snare is a 14”. I could also distinctly hear a 10” piccolo snare to his right, as well as an auxiliary snare to his left, probably a 14″ as well…I’ve never seen 3 snares on a drum kit before. Nathan East on bass provided some soul to the group. Nathan has played bass for Joe Satriani (as Simon Phillips did), as well as Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins among many others. He added unique backing vocals and a call and response section to “Africa.” I caught him outside the Fox before show time and got to have a quick chat with him and a handshake. Very polite man and he was open to speaking with the fans. He dug my t-shirt J He also called Visalia one of the greatest cities in America. Wow..
Not only were the band super tight, they were enjoying themselves onstage and relishing the moment. Lukather cracked jokes and provided light hearted insight when introducing some of the songs. It was like a celebration, a party, with Lukather and other band members frequently getting the crowd to participate. Joseph Williams slinked and danced all over the stage, playfully interacting with the other guys in the group as well as the back-up singers. Amy Keyes and Mabvuto Carpenter provided soulful backing vocals for the group, making for an astounding set of singers on one stage. Amy Keyes provided backing vocals for Tears for Fears during their comeback tour in 2004. She provided smokin’ vocals during a duet with Joseph on “Hold the Line.” That rendition was KILLER. I am so glad I caught this show. I’ve always wanted to see Toto mainly because of their reputation and because I’m a fan of particular musicians like Simon Phillips. I walked away with a deeper appreciation for this band and I’d see them again in a heartbeat. The set was between 90-100 minutes, brief but potent in my eyes. No opening act, and the show ended rather early for a concert, around 9:30pm. The live sound was great, no issues. It was a solid crowd, I’d say that venue was mostly full, with a few rows in the balcony empty. The music is very accessible, the musicianship is stellar, and the energy level was relentless. Even the ballads came alive onstage, no snooze fest at this show.
On the Run
St. George and the Dragon
I Won’t Hold You Back (dedication to Steve Lukather’s mom)
Falling In Between
Wings of Time (dedication to Jeff & Mike Porcoro)
Pamela (Joseph dedicated this to a young man who informed him that he learned to play this song)
99 (with a funny explanation of the song title)
Hold the Line
Home of the Brave (dedication to the men & women in uniform)