Friday’s sold-out Meijer Gardens concert proved the instrumental and vocal mettle of the beloved prog-pop band. The show review and photos, exclusively at Local Spins.
Those expecting a trip down memory lane Friday night for Toto’s return to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park were no doubt thrilled to hear “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna” and “Africa.”
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But those who only knew the band from its radio-friendly hits were in for a surprise.
Even when Toto debuted back in 1977, the band members were known as superior musicians. Now 40-plus years on, the band displays a musical muscle few groups can match.
Undaunted by some pre-concert rain, the sold-out crowd of 1,900 rose as one to welcome band members as they filed on stage. Toto kicked things off with “Alone,” the first track from its greatest hits package, “40 Trips Around the Sun,” and the audience remained on its feet for the first few songs, applauding wildly throughout.
And with good reason.
The band was tight, dramatic and spot-on, whether instrumentally or vocally. Singer Joseph Williams showed his range has actually increased over the years, Steve Porcaro is a synth-master, and Steve Lukather is a bona fide guitar hero, eliciting several calls of “Luuuuke!” throughout the night. In fact, Luke switched guitars seemingly for every song.
“Hold the Line” was an early highlight. Williams hit notes with power and precision, while Luke’s slashing riffs showed a metallic edge that again puts the lie to Toto’s pure pop reputation among the non-cognoscenti. Bassist Shem von Schroeck hit the highest falsetto vocals to fill out the song.
STRETCHING OUT WITH AUDACIOUS SOLOS
It wasn’t until the band played “I Will Remember” that the audience settled into its chairs. But the hits soon had the crowd back up again, as well as a couple of blistering instrumentals, including “Jake to the Bone.” In fact, Lukather told the audience “You gotta stand up!” just before the band launched into “Rosanna.”
Even in the midst of the familiar tunes, the band was unafraid to stretch out the songs with long, audacious solos. That can be a recipe for disaster in less accomplished hands, but these guys are all top-notch musicians.
After all, it wasn’t long after their high school band days that they were performing on (and in David Paich’s case, writing for) the hit Boz Scaggs album, “Silk Degrees.”
Since then, in addition to their own albums, band members have played scores of sessions for the likes of Michael Jackson, Olivia Newton-John, Julio Iglesias, Yes, Asia, Chicago and George Benson.
Yeah, these guys can play. And it’s not just the main members, either.
On bass, von Schroeck kept things grounded. Drummer Shannon Forest, longtime percussionist Lenny Castro, and Warren Ham on saxes, flute and harmonica filled out the sound. Original pianist and vocalist David Paich was on medical leave, and super-sub Dominique “Xavier” Taplin never missed a beat.
BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
Williams’ and Lukather’s lead vocals were embellished by von Schroeck, Ham and Taplin, all in tune and fattening the sound till it was just right. In fact, other than the saxes being under-mixed, the sound throughout the night was clear and full without being overwhelming.
Another highlight came when band members stepped up front to play and talk about some of their favorite songs. Porcaro recounted how he wrote “Human Nature” for Michael Jackson after visiting earlier in the day with his young daughter on the way to the studio, who told him about how she been bullied at school.
Lukather and Williams told stories about some of their favorite songs and played portions of them, including “Georgy Porgy.” And if it wasn’t quite an acoustic set, it was a chance for the band to get a little softer and more personal, and the audience responded.
Toto played another rocking instrumental, the “Desert Theme” from the “Dune” soundtrack, followed by the band’s tribute to fallen heroes, specifically pal George Harrison. The solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” brought down the house.
The show ended with Luke introducing “that song.” The marimba-like keyboard lines opened “Africa,” which had the audience singing along from the get-go.
The song that has refused to die has been covered by everyone from the a capella group Straight No Chaser to Weezer. Toto responded to the latter with its encore, a cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” (a mutual admiration nod after Weezer scored a big hit with “Africa” earlier this year).
Well done, but not ending the show with something of the band’s own was a bit of a letdown. Other than that, however, the band lit up what could have been a clammy night with its own brand of hard-rocking, riff-blazing musical sunshine.
For more about Toto, check out Local Spins’ interview with Steve Porcaro: Toto still loving the hits, still touring, still reveling in instrumental glory
PHOTO GALLERY: Toto at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Anthony Norkus