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04th Apr 2018

There is no band on the planet better at performing live than Toto

Will Lavin

Something special happened on Easter Sunday.

No, I’m not talking about the resurrection of Christ, although that it pretty spectacular – I’m not even sure David Blaine could do that – I’m talking specifically about Easter Sunday just gone, the same Easter Sunday I was invited to the Royal Albert Hall to see Toto play a special 40th anniversary show.

Not sure who Toto are? Firstly, shame on you. Secondly, they’re one of the most sampled bands in the history of music. They’re also a band you can’t pigeonhole as being one thing. Looking for rock? They’ve got it. R&B? They’ve got it. Jazz? Yup, they’ve got it. How about some progressive funk? You’ve guessed it, they’ve got that too.

Oh, and they wrote this little hit called “Africa”.

Right! Now you’ve heard of them.

So, let me set the scene: I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall, picked up my ticket and was told which door number I needed to enter through to get to my seat. I walked through it and immediately thought I’d made a mistake. I turned around to question the usher and she informed me I was in the right place and pointed to my seat… four rows from the stage! I sat down and then took a second to look around at the sold out audience and realised that there was nowhere else I’d rather have been at that moment.

Celebrating 40 years since the release of their seminal self-titled debut album, and also promoting new album 40 Trips Around the Sun, from the moment Toto set foot onto the stage I knew it was going to be one of those nights. You know, the type of night your friends are jealous of and the type of night you could never get bored of talking about.

And I was right.

What annoys me a lot about going to gigs these days, and I’m referring to newer artists in particular, is the fact that many of them can’t be bothered to put on a show. It’s an effort for them. God forbid they’re entertainers who have to entertain. They’re more about performing to a backing track (sometimes still with their own vocals on it) and then picking up a quick cheque instead of giving the fans that put them on the map a night they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

With Toto there was no expense spared, and these guys have been going for 40 years so if anyone has a right to not give it their all and succumb to tiredness and boredom of doing the same thing over and over again then it would be them. But thankfully they didn’t.

So officially there’s four members of Toto today: Steve Lukather (guitars/vocals), David Paich (keyboards/vocals), Steve Porcaro (keyboards) and Joseph Williams (lead vocals). However, the Royal Albert Hall stage on Sunday played host to a few additional touring members. 

Joined by Lenny Castro (percussion/congas), Warren Ham (saxophone/harmonica/flute/vocals), Shannon Forrest (drums) and Shem von Schroeck (bass), this extended lineup made me realise that the band wanted what was best for the audience. Egos were not evident in the slightest. It was about the music, the feel, the vibe, the groove, and leaving it all on the stage. And for that very reason there is no band on the planet better at performing live than Toto.

The night had it all. 

There were crazed fans – my right eardrum was begging for forgiveness from the group of women to my right screaming as loud as they could every time Steve Lukather even remotely looked our way. There were tributes as the band played “I Will Remember” as a homage to former bandmates Jeff and Mike Porcaro. Then there were the hits, “Hold the Line”, “Rosanna”, and of course “Africa”, which Lukather introduced by saying: “Are you ready for ‘that’ song?”

There was even an acoustic set where Toto told the audience various stories from different parts of the band’s history. It was at this point that they played my favourite song, “Georgy Porgy”, which some might know from being reimagined by the likes of Eric Benet and Devin the Dude.

It was during the acoustic set that one of the night’s bigger moments took place. Not everyone will know this but it was actually Steve Porcaro who composed the music for Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” – he also worked on “The Girl Is Mine” and “Stranger In Moscow”. So after telling the story of how it came to be Toto then played their own version of the incredible Michael Jackson mega hit. To say I had goosebumps is an understatement.

In fact, for most of the evening I felt like I was having a religious experience with the Royal Albert Hall my church. Whether it was Steve Lukather’s spine-tingling rendition of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, the way the band were invested in their audience by constantly interacting with them and singling them out, or their obvious undying passion for what they do and that energy transferring onto me and everyone else in the building, there was a definite musical awakening that took place, it was more than just listening to music in a live venue.

The way Joseph Williams’ voice bellowed through the Royal Albert Hall felt other worldly. There’s no other way to describe it. You just felt it. His father might be a famous composer but his voice proved more powerful than any orchestra on this particular evening.

Let me put it to you this way: Toto at the Royal Albert Hall is in my Top 5 gigs of all-time. 

I know that’s quite a statement, especially coming from someone who, on average, goes to 100 gigs per year and has probably been to over 1500 gigs in his lifetime. It’s been a while since I’ve added a gig to my Top 5, but on Sunday it happened.

Toto’s musicianship, love for their fans and respect for each other cant be taught, it’s just natural. They’ve been at it for 40 years and they can still lay it down better than most other bands and it doesn’t feel forced, or like they’re bored. It feels like they’re just enjoying being able to do what they love. It’s a blessing that many artists today forget.

So many of them are pompous and privileged individuals parading around pretending to be real musicians, but truth be told they’re not. Music is a feeling, it’s a way of life, it’s a universal language that everyone understands, it should never be just a tool to make a quick buck.

Toto’s performance on Sunday proved that music is an evolving and uplifting art form no matter what generation it was created in.

Thanks for the memories. Here’s to another 40 years!

Toto’s 40 Trips Around the Sun is out now.