This is why you go to the show. For the joy of the performance, for the joy of being there as music enters your soul and transfixes and transforms you.
If you talk to Steve Lukather, and I do, you believe Toto is the most hated band in the world. I’m not sure that’s true, as a matter of fact I know that’s not true. Their crime was knowing how to play their instruments and having a mega-successful album that was played everywhere, “Toto IV.” Mega-success will put a dent in your future career, cause a backlash, can you say Christopher Cross, can you say Alanis Morissette, even Peter Frampton? Even if you can follow up your huge hit work, people have moved on, there’s always a new big thing, and a bunch of people who are over the last big thing and want nothing to do with it, and if your first track from your follow-up album doesn’t immediately become monstrous, the only people who still care are your fans, who will keep you alive if you let them.
Now I’ll be honest, I was not a huge fan of “Hold The Line,” of the first album, maybe it was too generic, too in the mold of what had come before. Then again, I knew the players’ histories, I’d seen Luke’s name in the credits on so many albums.
But “Hydra”… I still listen to that album today. I heard “99” on an airplane, remember when we used to put on those headphones with their plastic yokes and listen to the programming as it repeated itself over and over again? I loved “99,” after hearing it two or three times, I had to purchase the LP, Toto’s second, “Hydra.” Unlike “Hold The Line,” “99” was not like anything else, the band now had its own sound, at least in my eyes.
And I became enamored of the two previous tracks on the LP, the opening “Hydra” and then “St. George and the Dragon.”
Can you tell me where I might find the Hydra
Is he wearing a familiar face
Does he still live below 7th Avenue
With the princess dripped in lace
You know how lines repeat in your head, at odd moments, when you’re not thinking of them? I’m constantly singing “Can you tell me where I might find the Hydra” whenever I think of Toto, and sometimes when I don’t.
The third Toto LP was a commercial disappointment, and I didn’t buy it, as for Toto IV,” I didn’t have to, it was all over the airwaves, especially “Rosanna,” whose inspiration was an up and coming actress, constantly in the news, part of the scuttlebutt. Then again, it was not uncommon for rock stars to date actresses.
But the Toto album I like best is “Fahrenheit,” which I found in a promo bin and played over and over again. Actually, the best song on the LP, my favorite song on the LP, the first side closer, is “I’ll Be Over You,” which Luke co-wrote with Randy Goodrum.
As soon as my heart stops breakin’
As soon as forever is through
I’ll be over you
I didn’t think Luke was that sensitive, but even if Goodrum helped, he is. And this song encapsulates the heartbreak of disconnecting, and the hope they’ll come back, better than almost all of the vaunted hit cuts in this vein, it’s here where Toto’s chops really shine.
Now Luke and I bonded after I wrote about “Make Believe,” which was on the fourth album, the one I didn’t buy. I criticized the lyrics, but positively marveled at the sound and the feel, as out of date as so much from that era, yet so right. You might call it yacht rock, but the truth is the acts in that genre could sing, play and write, what’s the problem? Is this like politics, where we let our uneducated and unskilled rule?
So Luke is scratching it out, the only continuous member of Toto, he’s keeping the act alive. And then he and the band get a gift, Weezer’s cover of “Africa.”
This is their “Don’t Stop Believin'” moment. You forget that Journey was chastised just like Toto in their heyday. But then the aforementioned song is used in the finale of “The Sopranos” and suddenly Journey is America’s band, to the point where over a decade later, they can play stadiums (albeit co-headlining with Def Leppard).
Now it wasn’t Rivers Cuomo who picked out “Africa,” it was a fan who implored the band to do it over and over again to where, almost as a joke, Weezer covered it.
And it blew up.
Can I say why? Not definitively. Except to say all these years later, like the Carpenters, like so many chided bands of their era, people looked back and said the music Toto made was great.
And now “Africa” is not quite “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but it’s close.
So, band members have died, come and gone, but Luke soldiers on, especially overseas, where Toto’s career never waned, and…
He now wants a break from the act. Oh, don’t get him wrong, Luke’s got a huge number of projects, he’s always working, but it’s time to give Toto a bit of a rest.
I knew all this.
But I did not know David Paich would come out and sing at the final date, in Philly no less. I mean in L.A…
So I read about this surprise and I pull up the video and…
I can’t turn it off.
Now usually you get a few seconds of the link and you move on, but on this one…
The groove was set, the band was movin’ and then they locked into the riff and it was…AFRICA!
Not that it was my favorite cut back then, but if you were alive in the eighties, you know it, it’s in your DNA, whether you like it or not.
And David Paich…that’s the sound! And sure, all these years later, it’s not perfect, but very little is, one thing’s for sure, it’s alive, it’s present and so are you!
And when everybody steps up to the mic for the chorus, you feel the joy. And then the audience sings along at the top of their lungs and you just wish you were there.
And then the tinkly keyboard solo you know so well. But this take has more energy, it’s more upbeat, it’s a celebration!
And then, just when the song is fading, when you think it should be over, there’s a percussion solo? I’m on another webpage at this point, I click back to the video and learn this is a twelve minute version! But instead of turning it off, I’m still in the arc of the groove, it’s still there, underneath it all, after all, like classic Toto, Lenny Castro is a virtuoso, the kind who used to play sessions all day, who was too busy to go on the road back in the day.
And after about four minutes, Joseph Williams picks up the mic, goes into call and response with the audience, and Paich is dancing in his top hat like he’s 25 instead of 65, and then the audience sings the groove and everybody’s having a peak experience, no one cares what the critics have to say, this is the essence, this is it!
And then it all comes to a close and you’re clapping as loudly as you can, in tribute to the band and yourself, and when it all goes quiet, you’re completely drained and…
Can’t wait until you can do it again.