Good and bad news for TOTO fans: after the simultaneous release of two solo albums earlier this year by guitarist Steve Lukather and singer Joseph Williams, the third album from the American collective has been released in a short time. It is a live performance entitled With A Little Help From My Friends. In addition, a new series of shows has been announced for the summer of 2022 under the moniker ‘Dogz of Oz Tour’. But there is also some bad news: ‘last of the Mohicans’ Lukather has indicated that no new material from the band is to be expected. This decision cannot be dissociated from the recent loss of a lawsuit against drummer Jeff Porcaro’s widow, which not only resulted in a financial loss (allegedly about $1 million) but also an emotional one, the painful break-up with co-founder/keyboardist and Jeff’s brother, Steve Porcaro.
Lukather says he is now at peace with it, but some strong language halfway through the show, in response to this unfortunate chapter in the band’s history, speaks volumes. So be it, the new live CD has been on the player for some time now and the accompanying video viewed extensively. I cannot completely avoid the impression that Lukather, Williams et al mainly had financial reasons for releasing this album. Trust me: there is still plenty to enjoy, no contest. These guys have always been a personal guarantee for high-quality rock and pop music, especially live.
And that’s the case with this fifteenth (out of necessity) reincarnation of the band. There has certainly not been a loss of quality, just listen to the names of the new ‘cats’, as Lukather affectionately calls them: bassist John Pierce (Huey Lewis & the News), drummer Robert ‘Sput’ Searight (Ghost-Note/Snarky Puppy) and keyboardist/backing vocalist Steve Maggiora (Robert Jon & The Wreck) join Lukather and Williams for this next chapter in TOTO history. Keyboardist Dominique ‘Xavier’ Taplin (Prince, Ghost-Note) and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Warren Ham (Ringo Starr) continue their presence. Even co-founder David Paich, actually already retired, plays a small part during the last two songs.
Recording took place on a special evening, on 21st November 2020, TOTO appearing with the new line-up for a worldwide live streaming event from Los Angeles, California, for which the now 63-year-old Lukather and his slightly younger ‘brother from another mother’ Williams put together a special set list.
It’s a little strange: the band performs in what looks like a garage, from a distance, against a stone wall as a backdrop. There are hardly any spectators present, now and then meagre applause is audible. There are no shots of the audience, if there is any at all. It feels as if the performance takes place in a small club, without the associated intimate atmosphere. Not that this detracts from the quality of the music, TOTO is just too professional for that, but with a minutes-long drum solo (at the end of White Sister) and a way too long band introduction, that could have been different, couldn’t it? It’s quite a short set in fact, in terms of playing time: about 75 minutes including the above mentioned faux pas. There would still have been room for one or two more songs from the band’s extensive oeuvre that comprises fourteen studio albums since 1978.
But there are also a few hidden gems to be found, such as the unlikely choice for ‘deep cut’ You Are the Flower from their debut album, dedicated to former singer Bobby Kimball. And with personal favourite Kingdom of Desire, the already mentioned White Sister and Home of the Brave, there are sufficient true rock songs to give TOTO a credible rock image. The obligatory Hold the Line is introduced with “we have to play this one”; honest at least. It is clear that the band mainly revolves around the two comrades Lukather and Williams. Without the inimitable and distinctive guitar antics and the vocals there would simply be no more TOTO. Williams has without a doubt the best voice of all the TOTO singers ever. Moreover, the band remains fairly close to the originals as recorded on the various albums, which is sometimes refreshing. In addition, there are leading roles for excellent drummer Searight and the flute (on You Are the Flower) and saxophone (Pamela, Rosanna) of veteran Warren Ham, which adds just that little bit extra to take the music to a higher level. By the way, no Africa this time; they have my blessing. But there is an inspired Joe Cocker-based version of With A Little Help From My Friends, possibly induced by the collaboration with Ringo Starr, the vocals shared by the two friends, by mutual agreement.
The video is kind of boring; it can’t be otherwise without an audience or other show elements. There is only a marginal light show above a dark stage, on which a static band performs. On the other hand, the music is rock solid and provided with a thorough production and mix. Particularly striking is the multi-harmony singing, often four-fold.
With no prospect of a new TOTO studio album, one can’t do anything else but enjoy the extensive back catalogue of the band (top tips: Hydra, IV, The Seventh One and XIV). But the outlook of a full-fledged live show by the experienced ensemble is also not to be missed. In that respect, I rate With A Little Help From My Friends mainly as a tasteful appetiser. Enjoy your meal.
01. Till the End (5:06)
02. Hold the Line (4:15)
03. Pamela (6:11)
04. Kingdom of Desire (8:13)
05. White Sister (9:28)
06. You Are the Flower (5:15)
07. I Won’t Hold You Back (5:36)
08. Stop Loving You (6:01)
09. Band Introductions (3:27)
10. Home of the Brave (8:06)
11. Rosanna (7:06)
12. With A Little Help From My Friends (6:11)
Total Time – 74:55
Steve Lukather – Guitars, Vocals
Joseph Williams – Vocals
David Paich – Keyboards
John Pierce – Bass
Robert Searight – Drums
Steve Maggiora – Keyboards, Background Vocals
Dominique Taplin – Keyboards
Warren Ham – Saxophone, Flute, Percussion, Background Vocals
Record Label: Mascot
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 25th June 2021
– With A Little Help From My Friends (2021)
– 40 Tours Around The Sun (2019)
– 40 Trips Around The Sun (2018)
– Old Is New (2018)
– Live at Montreux 1991 (2016)
– XIV (2015)
– 35th Anniversary Tour – Live in Poland (2014)
– Falling In Between Live (2008)
– Falling In Between (2006)
– 25th Anniversary Toto: Live in Amsterdam (2003)
– Through the Looking Glass (2003)
– Livefields (1999)
– Mindfields (1999)
– XX 1977-1997 (1997)
– Tambu (1995)
– Absolutely Live (1993)
– Kingdom of Desire (1992)
– Past to Present 1977-1990 (1990)
– The Seventh One (1988)
– Fahrenheit (1986)
– Isolation (1984)
– Toto IV (1982)
– Turn Back (1981)
– Hydra (1979)
– Toto (1978)