postheadericon Review: Classic Toto Line-up Plays Great Show in Amsterdam

Toto – Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam – June 23rd, 2011

Introduction

A small part of me died when Steve Lukather announced that “there is no more Toto” in June 2008. The end of an era. I had been a fan of this band for more than 20 years and I was devastated that day. You can imagine how incredibly happy I was when Steve announced a reunion tour in February 2010. The circumstances were very, very sad though. Bassist Mike Porcaro was diagnosed with and suffering from ALS; a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control the muscles in your body, which eventually leads to death. The reunion of Toto was meant to benefit Mike to help him pay his medical expenses. “The Groovemeister” would be replaced by bass veteran Nathan East during the 2010 reunion tour.

I was very lucky to see Toto during that tour in De Waerdse Tempel in Heerhugowaard, a relatively small place for around 2000 people, especially for a popular band like Toto that can easily fill the Heineken Music Hall to the brim two days in row like they did this year.

The Heerhugowaard show was stellar for a number of reasons. Of course there was the return of Joseph Williams, but maybe even more important was the return of Steve Porcaro, who added the classic keyboard sounds and textures that we know from the first decade of Toto’s existence. Add to that the intimacy of De Waerdse Tempel and a great mix by the sound engineer and you end up with my favorite Toto experience of all time.

Fast Forward to the Present

Enough with the rather long introduction. Fast forward to 2011, June 23rd, Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam! We arrived at the venue two hours before the show, looking at quite a long queue of people waiting to get in. We were worried about getting a nice spot close to the stage in the venue at that time, but luckily that was not the case. After we got in, we ended up about 4 meters (or 14 feet) from the stage where we had a great view of the stage and all the musicians. Before the show, The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” played from the PA. I think we have heard that album play about four times in its entirety before the show started after a two hours wait. But it was absolutely worth it!

Toto played a great show. The guys were all in great shape and they appeared on the stage full of energy. It was clear that they had a lot of fun and were enjoying themselves, which transferred to the audience. They opened the set with “Child’s Anthem”, the instrumental opening track from the first album, which had an extended intro that sounded impressively. The band continued with “Till the End” from “Fahrenheit”, which is the first album that Joseph Williams appeared on. (Click here to check out the complete setlist of the show in Setlist.fm)

And oh boy, this guy can still sing! Joseph Williams still has a terrific voice and is able to reach the high notes, although it takes him a bit more effort than in his early days. I surely enjoyed his vocals very much. Because of this, the band really shines when they play songs from the Williams-era like “Till the End”, “Somewhere Tonight”, “Stop Loving You”, “Pamela” and my absolute favorite “Home of the Brave”, which was my personal highlight of the show.

This tour marked the return of an other great voice in Toto history as well: Jenny Douglas, who sang backing vocals and a few lead vocals on the album “Tambu” and toured with the band in that period. She did a good job in Amsterdam together with her partner in crime Mabvuto Carpenter.

Steve Porcaro

Just like last year in Heerhugowaard I enjoyed the presence of Steve Porcaro in the band very much, who added his vintage Toto keyboard sounds that we had to miss live on stage since the late eighties. It’s awesome to hear all these classic Toto songs with the original keyboard and synth sounds, especially with old tracks like “Rosanna” and “Africa”. This is the closest to the real Toto sound you can get really! And Steve is expressively present on the stage as well, moving around behind his keyboard or walking around the stage with a cowbell during “Stay Away”.

And of course not only Steve Porcaro and Joseph Williams did a great job. All the others played terrific as well. The musicianship and experience of these guys is astonishing and goes back to the mid seventies of the previous century for some them and that really shows.

Surprises

The band had a couple surprises for the audience. One of them was a song they had never played live before, which turned out to be a Michael Jackson cover: “Human Nature”. The music for this song was co-written by Steve Porcaro and the core of the band that played on the original track consisted of Steve and Jeff Porcaro, David Paich and Steve Lukather. You could say that this track was in fact a Toto-song with Michael Jackson on lead-vocals. 🙂 This night the vocals were done by Joseph Williams and it sounded marvelous.

The other surprise was during the encore “Hold the Line” where Steve Lukather’s son Trevor Lukather was invited on the stage to play along. I got the feeling that Trevor is not used to playing in front of nearly ten thousand people yet because his solo was a little tame. Then again, I would be nervous as hell too if I was asked to show up and play one song for such a big audience, so it’s not fair to judge him on this short performance.

Minor Criticism

Is there really nothing to complain then? Well, not much actually, but I’d like to point out a few things. One point of criticism was the mix of the sound, which could have been a problem of the spot in the venue where we stood. If you are reading this and had a different experience that night, I’d be glad to hear from you in the comments. I found the levels of the bass drums a bit too high, getting in the way of the keyboard and guitar sounds at times. Also the sound engineer reacted a bit late on the keyboard and guitar solos sometimes, but since this was the second show of the tour, I bet this will get better with later shows.

The other thing that was slightly disappointing was that the setlist was largely the same as last year’s setlist. Only two songs were different: “The Gift of Faith” from the Tambu album and the Michael Jackson cover “Human Nature”. Also David Paich’s solo spot was a reprise of the solo he has been playing for the past 12 to 15 years. A little freshness on these aspects could make the show even better than it already was for the die-hard fans that come to see them as often as they can.

Conclusion

Looking back at Toto’s show at the Heineken Music Hall, I had a wonderful evening. It was not as good as the show I saw last year at De Waerdse Tempel in Heerhugowaard, but the show on itself was still a very good show of very high musical standards. The reason for the reunion of the band may be a very sour one, I am very happy on the other hand that I was able to see my favorite band playing again in this classic line-up.

Already looking forward to the next tour!

One Response to “Review: Classic Toto Line-up Plays Great Show in Amsterdam”

  • Denis Robinson:

    Hi
    I have seen Toto live around 1991 and in 2003 and I am a huge fan, but I am afraid to say that whilst they played to their usual high standard the sound balance was terrible. I agree with you that the sound engineers made the novice mistake of over-miking the kick drums and the lower bass guitar frequencies to a point where the subtleness of the music and harmonies were totally lost in the mix.

    The sound mix when we saw them in 2003 was perfect almost like listening to your HIFI but the vocals were sometimes illegible and guitar solos often drowned out by the big kick drum and bass guitar sound.

    We were so disappointed as we had travelled from the UK for the show and the sound engineers seemingly just couldn’t be bothered to get it right. What a real shame cos its probably the last time I will see them again live. Denis

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