Toto have been producing hit songs for decades and in 2019 they embarked on their ’40 Trips Around The Sun’ tour in Byron Bay at the Falls Festival to mark 40 years of making music. They recently landed in New Zealand where I had the pleasure of taking in their show at Church Road winery in Napier. As a fan of Toto since their 1982 release of Toto IV, I’ve been an avid follower ever since.
Very few bands make it to 40 years with the original line up and Toto are no exception. There have been changes over the years since the original formation, but arguably their most notable line up was
- David Paich
- Steve Lukather
- Jeff Porcaro
- Steve Porcaro
- Mike Porcaro
- Bobby Kimball
With the passing of Jeff and Mike it’s good to see at least one Porcaro on the tour (Steve.) With Steve Lukather, these two are the originals on this tour, followed closely by Joseph Williams on vocals who spent a large portion of time with Toto following the departure of Bobby Kimball. Steve Lukather was last in New Zealand with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai as G3 back in 2012. David Paich was recovering from illness so wasn’t able to be present. Rounding out the band is Lenny Castro on percussion/congas, Warren Ham on Sax/flute/backing vocals, Shannon Forrest on drums, Shem von Schroeck on bass and backing vocals, and Dominique Taplin on keyboards and backing vocals. So with 3 of the core members of Toto you might be forgiven for feeling “short changed?” Well, I did, but that was soon a memory once they got going. More on that later.
Supporting Toto on this tour is local iconic New Zealand band Dragon with frontman Mark Williams. Also in support were 70’s rock group Jefferson Starship (born out of Jefferson Airplane) who seem like they’ve been going forever! The day started with Dragon at 5:30pm who were playing to a smallish, but building kind of crowd. The weather was a sizzling 30 degress and Dragon belted out hit after hit starting with “Still in Love with you” and belting out more hits such as “Speak no Evil”, “Dreams of Ordinary Men”, “Young Years”. During the drum solo, Pete lost a drumstick which made for an entertaining moment.
At this point it dawns on me about how many hits Dragon had as they kept them coming with “In The Right Direction”, “April Sun in Cuba” and “Rain”. They also performed a cover of Cool and the Gang’s 1980 hit song “Celebration” who ironically are up the road performing in Tauranga. Another light hearted moment occurred when somebody threw a bra on stage, which Mark picked up and wore on his head briefly before asking “Do you want it back?”, “No?”, “Ok then….” Dragon concluded their set with their smash hit “Are you Old Enough” from their 1978 album, O Zambezi.
After a short break, Jefferson Starship are lead to the stage by frontwoman Cathy Richardson who has filled the historic role made famous by Grace Slick since 2008. The rest of Jefferson Starship are David Freiberg on guitar and vocals, Donny Baldwin on drums and high harmony vocals, Chris Smith on keyboards and Jude Gold on lead guitar.
They launch into “Find Your Way Back” and immediately the crowd are up on their feet. They continue with more of their hits such as “Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now” and “Jane”. Cathy Richardson’s voice is incredibly powerful and fantastic live. Founding member David Freiberg at 80 years old was looking good and sounding way better! His voice was also incredible (at any age!) and between David, Cathy and Donny, they re-created the vocal ensemble the the fans recall with fondness. For me the height of the show was when they performed “White Rabbit” This sounded better than the recorded version! It was an incredible rendition that had the crowd in a daze! Richardson’s vocals were once again to the fore on “Somebody to Love”
Toto hit the stage bang on 8:30pm and opened with “Alone” to the roar of the audience. Joseph Williams and Steve Lukather immediately hit the front of the stage and kick the show on! “Hold the Line” is up next as the well known keyboard intro begins followed by the trademark Lukather power chords. Shortly into the show and Joseph leaves the stage as the band undertakes a musical with each member performing solos. This is like a massive Jam but with precision. It is during this time that we are reminded that Toto is a band full of truly talented musicians covering a wide spectrum of music genres. It’s difficult to categorise Toto into a typical music genre of say “Pop” and Wikipedia lists them as “Rock, Pop, Jazz Fusion” and that’s probably fairly accurate but probably also missing a few more. There is a definite “Funk” to Toto and this Jam track shows that. It is also evident during this track, the amount of talent the touring musos have, as they show critical fans like myself the validity of their inclusion. Dominique Taplin especially showcases this portion of the show.
Moving swiftly on and the crowd is brought to their feet by the start of “Rosanna” which everybody knows and loves! The vocal duo with Lukather and Williams is on point and the crowd lent a hand on this track, as you’d expect. During the night, Steve Lukather’s funky riffs and ripping melodic solos are pleasing to all the guitarists in the house. We were treated to a great vocal performance with Jefferson Starship and Toto steps that up to another level. The harmonies and full vocal performance of Toto was massive and the sound mix front of house was bang on! Shem von Schroeck on bass was also responsible for all the high note backing vocals. Six of the eight band members were also providing a full range of vocals and that’s quite a lot.
Lukather picks up his acoustic guitar and the band rips out a few shortened version of tracks such as the most funkiest version of a nursery rhyme you’ll ever hear, with “Georgy Porgy”, “Human Nature” made famous by Michael Jackson that Williams nailed on vocals, “Holyanna” and “No Love”. Soon after we are introduced to the band. Steve Lukather leads a rendition of “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” by George Harrison and Lukather closes that track mashing in a few bars from Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free”, probably not something most would have noticed. Well, they hit that time of the night for “that song!” as Lukather put’s it, as Lenny leads them into “Africa”. The little amount of crowd still seated at this point were up on their feet with full participation. This ended the main set.
Toto returned for an encore, a cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” before thanking the crowd and departing the stage. I admit I had some reservations with the lineup, but 15 minutes in, that was gone and by the end of the night I was easily sold! Great value for the whole day/night!
- Hold the Line
- Lovers in the Night
- Spanish Sea
- I Will Remember
- English Eyes
- Jake to the Bone
- Georgy Porgy (Snippet)
- Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover) (Snippet)
- Holyanna (Snippet)
- No Love (Snippet)
- Stop Loving You (Snippet)
- Girl Goodbye (Followed by band introductions)
- Dune (Desert Theme)
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles cover)
- Make Believe