Toto is a band that divides music fans into two camps, pro or con, and there is no middle ground. You either condemn the group for its silky smooth productions, catchy tunes and (too) high hit content, or you embrace them on the basis of their undisputed musical capabilities, melodic music and writing qualities. I find myself on the side of the latter, ever since their first album in 1978.
I was lucky to be present at their first concert ever in the Netherlands, at the Congresgebouw in The Hague on 27th September 1982 to be precise. The band, consisting of seasoned session musicians, was on a worldwide tour to promote their fourth album, aptly named IV. I was also present in November 2002, at the Amsterdam HMH, with an identical setlist to the performance in March 2003, later recorded for posterity in the form of the 25th Anniversary: Live in Amsterdam CD and DVD. In between, I saw them perform twice at the Ahoy in Rotterdam, both in 1987 and for the last time in 2006. Although I continued to follow the band, I stopped seeing them live. The new live album 40 Tours Around The Sun was therefore met with some anticipation and special attention. I was particularly curious as to whether these guys were able to stand the test of time. And I will no longer keep you in suspense: that is indeed the case.
OK, after forty years our heroes look somewhat older, heavier and greyish, but does that not apply to most of us? Musically it’s still rock solid. New material is scarce: their latest studio album, XIV, dates back to 2015. An album with old and partly unreleased material followed, while their latest release is a compilation album, albeit with three new songs, aptly named 40 Trips Around The Sun, in honour of the band’s 40th anniversary in 2018.
A “kick-ass show”, to use an American phrase, especially live, the band is quite a spectacle, with a high sing-along factor too. Certainly not the slick studio band with its smooth arrangements and multiple over-dubs, but rather a swinging, well-oiled rock and roll band, having a ball on stage. One of the few bands that can also convincingly merge jazz, R&B and rock into a coherent whole. The album is an excellent document from a band that has been at the top for four decades. It is also noteworthy that the audience seems to be a lot younger; the average age leans more towards forty than fifty – remarkable. A sold-out Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam is literally going crazy, 17,000 attendees sing and dance along to a seemingly endless series of hit records and so-called ‘deep cuts’. Both performed in flawless versions. Toto’s anniversary, entitled 40 Tours Around The Sun, is one big happy celebration.
The group currently consists of four veterans, including three founders. The oldest being 65 year old David Paich. Wearing his inseparable hat (he later switches to the iconic top hat), he plays and sings his parts seated behind a concert piano. Some might say the presentation is a bit static, but that has never been any different. His counterpart on keys is “brother” Steve (61), the only one of the legendary Porcaro brothers still alive. He reminds me a bit of Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, one hand on the instrument, both in performance and stage presentation. The “rookie”, at the age of 59, is singer Joseph (Joe) Williams. His voice, once powerful and high-pitched and at the time sounding quite like Michael Jackson (!), has definitely lost some of its power. He is regularly supported by bass player Shem von Schroeck, who is responsible for the high notes (Spanish Sea). The harmony vocals are unparalleled, sometimes even four-part. But the main man remains guitarist/singer Steve “Luke” Lukather (61), the embodiment of the band and the only one who can be heard on all of Toto’s albums. He still rocks like before, his soloing is sparkling and wild at one moment and then again quite subdued, his lead vocals are recognisable as ever. He has not lost his edge, still dyes his hair raven black and is the big eye-catcher and the only one with true credibility as a rocker.
Then there is legendary percussionist Lenny Castro, at 69 by far the oldest on stage. He was already present on the first album, though not as a full member, and can be heard on most of the back catalogue of the group. Warren Ham is also a veteran, his playing on saxophone, harmonica, flute and as background singer perfectly matches the rest. The relative newcomers, previously mentioned excellent bass player Shem von Schroeck and young drummer Shannon Forrest, are the only ones left. They complete the band that is still one of the top attractions on various stages in the world. No Greg Phillinganes, Nathan East or Simon Phillips this time, but they are absolutely not missed.
No prog, apart from a few minor exceptions, but there are symphonic traits: many keyboard parts, rocking guitar solos, varying tempo and, above all, a lot of musical craftsmanship. Toto has a special bond with the Netherlands: their first number one hit, Hold The Line, was pushed to the top of the charts by DJ Alfred Lagarde, and Lukather admits it. In addition, this is already the third live album recorded in the low lands: the first, Absolutely Live, being recorded at the Maaspoort in Den Bosch in 1993. A pure live band too, no fewer than seven live albums have since seen the light of day.
You can always discuss the setlist but the band has found a good balance between the well-known hits and the lesser-known material. There are a number of small gems, songs that until now have hardly been played live, such as Lea, Mushanga, English Eyes and No Love. One of the highlights is the middle part of the show where the band tells its history on the basis of a number of lesser-known songs, in a semi-acoustic setting, some of which have never been played live before. Miss Sun from 1977, known in the Bozz Scaggs version, Human Nature, a hit for Michael Jackson from 1983, and HolyAnna from 1984, among others. It’s a bit too much to shed a light on all 25 songs, but I would nevertheless like to highlight some of them.
The new song Alone is played as an opener, in a blistering version, and the tone for the performance is set. Jake To The Bone is a wonderful instrumental, very jazzy of signature. A brilliant song from my favorite album from the band, the dark Kingdom of Desire from 1992. The instrumental Desert Theme, soundtrack from the movie Dune from 1984, is pure top-notch sympho-rock. The ballad Angela from the same year can also be qualified as prog with a little goodwill. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is the well-known but ever so sensitive ode from guitarist Lukather to his great idol George Harrisson – goosebumps. The concluding and very appropriate The Road Goes On deserves a special mention. Lukather plays the 12-string guitar in a song that he announces as “very important” and “autobiographical”. Naturally, all well-known hits pass by, with Africa in an almost thirteen-minute version with an excellent Lenny Castro on percussion.
The video images are excellent and catchy at the same time: during the rock songs, many alternating shots from all angles are shown, fortunately not really annoyingly. The ballads get a much calmer camera treatment, lots of close-ups and shots from the stage, just the right balance. There is a professional, mostly Dutch, crew at work with numerous cameras. The sound is also great, all the instruments are clearly audible in the mix, not an easy task with a band consisting of eight musicians. Steve Lukather’s guitar is unsurprisingly prominent in the mix. Total playing time is approximately 140 minutes, there’s an added bonus in the form of an interview with the band members.
All in all an excellent release by a band that has proven to remain a force to be reckoned with in modern music. Band leader and co-founder Steve Lukather has already said it several times: as far as he is concerned, the band will continue to play as long as the members enjoy it. Gigs have already been announced for 2020, it is quite possible that in the long term we may rejoice in a 50th Anniversary Tour. And The Road Goes On…
03. Hold The Line
04. Lovers In The Night
05. Spanish Sea
06. I Will Remember
07. English Eyes
08. Jake To The Bone
~ Acoustic Storytellers:
11. Miss Sun
12. Georgy Porgy
13. Human Nature
15. No Love
17. Stop Loving You
18. Girl Goodbye
21. Dune (Desert Theme)
22. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
23. Stranger In Town
24. Make Believe
26. The Road Goes On
Total Time – 140:00
40 Tours Around The Sun is available in various versions:
DVD | Blu-Ray | DVD & 2CD | Blu-Ray & 2CD | 3LP Vinyl | 2 CD | Digital
Shannon Forrest – Drums
Lenny Castro – Percussion
Steve Lukather – Vocals, Guitars
David Paich – Vocals, Keyboards
Joe Williams – Vocals
Steve Porcaro – Keyboards
Shem von Schroeck – Bass
Warren Ham -Saxophone, Vocals
Record Label: Eagle Vision
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 22nd March 2019