Review: Toto ’40 Trips Around The Sun’ – Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Everyone knows at least one Toto song. EVERYONE. Part of that is due to soundtracks of video games like ‘Grand Theft Auto- San Andreas’ and partly due to the timelessness their songs have ensuring radio play still. ‘Africa‘ was their only American number 1 hit but that hasn’t stopped them doing what they do for forty years. That’s no mean feat in the music biz and this tour ’40 Trips Around The Sun’ celebrates just that. And what a celebration!
In the Waterfront Hall we have perfect seats in front of the stage which give a birdseye view of the action. The stage set up includes two drum kits (one which could rival Danny Carey from Tool), a piano AND synths. And with the band playing a set that is over 2 hours, I am glad to be seated!
Opening with ‘Alone’ a new song from their greatest hits album, also titled ’40 Trips Around The Sun,’ it’s clear the band haven’t lost their ability to write a damn catchy radio-friendly tune. Although it is a new song, it is a perfect start to the show. ‘Hold The Line‘ is next and, although it is from their debut eponymous album from 1978, it has stood the test of time. ‘Spanish Sea‘ is another new song and it sits well beside their classics.
The Toto lineup has changed over the years but the three original members left, Steve Lukather on guitar, Steve Porcaro on synthesisers and David Paich on piano, are ably accompanied by Joseph Williams on lead vocals, Shannon Forrest on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion, Warren Ham on sax, flute and backing vocals and Shem Von Stroeck on bass. Toto have never been cool – in fact Lukather has been quoted as saying they were ‘the worlds most uncool band’. But what they lack in cool points, they make up for in buckets of talent. Williams, dressed in a floor length leather coat, black bandana and shades, looks like a caricature of an ageing rock star but boy can he sing! On ‘I Will Remember,‘ his voice is clear and powerful.
Paich on the piano is an outstanding accompaniment but one of the highlights of this show is the 4 and 5 way harmonies, which lends a lush, complete feel to the music. ‘Jake To The Bone‘ is a lesser known instrumental from the 1992 album ‘Kingdom of Desire‘ but every musician gets their chance to shine on this fusion number although the highlight is Lukather’s guitarwork. Surprisingly the song is somewhat of a jazz piece, which I would not immediately associate with Toto but it works.
The band then slow it down again with a ballad, ‘Lea‘ complete with sax solo. It encapsulates a certain time in music and a certain innocence. It also sounds like it could be the perfect exit music for a 1980s love story but I digress. Next up is the inimitable ‘Roseanna‘, one of their breakout hits. From 1982, it is as old as me but it still sounds amazing and has people up dancing in the aisles at the Waterfront, much to the chagrin of the stewards. A spontaneous standing ovation follows this and one guy shouting ‘oh yes, oh yes!’ with pure delight at the musicianship and the fact that the song sounds BETTER live than recorded and that is not an exaggeration. The harmonies are phenomenal.
For the next section of the show Williams explains they have changed the stage set up and they have an acoustic storytellers segment where the band are stripped back to bare bones and talk about their beginnings and their careers and who they worked with. ‘Miss Sun’, better known as a Boz Scaggs track, was written by Paich and he talks about his time as a session musician on this. ‘Human Nature,‘ best known as a Michael Jackson song, is next and I am surprised to find that it was written by keyboard player Steve Porcaro about and for his daughter after she had been bullied. The reality is Toto may not have been ‘cool’ but they played on alot of important albums as session musicians, wrote tracks for influential albums and helped produce hit albums (Thriller anyone?). So it’s great to hear them play some of these tracks and talk about their influences. ‘Stop Loving You’ is next and it is a life affirming joyful song which shifts the tempo of the set up a notch.
Back into their second set with ‘Girl Goodbye‘, a bluesy rock number from their first album, again it’s testament to the excellent musicianship of the band that this song is elevated from a 8 minute long funky jam session to a singalong that gets everyone moving. On ‘Angela‘, Williams takes lead vocals surprisingly as on the 1978, it was lead guitarist Lukather who sang this and he’s one of Toto’s best balladeers. Instead, he revels in the guitar solo and takes himself to the front of the stage while rocking out.
The band take on another instrumental next with the ‘Theme from ‘Dune” from the 1984 David Lynch science fiction epic. This band really can turn their hand to anything and I feel ashamed I didn’t know before now what consummate musicians Toto were and criminally underrated. Dedicating their next song simply to George on what would have been his 75th year, Lukather takes on The Beatles classic ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and the guitar doesn’t weep but moreso sings in such expert hands.
The time has come though, to play ‘THAT song’, and the band don’t even have to mention it by name. ‘I know you’ve all been waiting for THAT song’ Porcaro tells us and with that they launch into an 8 minute long version of ‘Africa’. And it IS what we have been waiting for and unabashedly everyone sings along, encouraged by the band and Williams in complete control of the crowd gets us all to sing back to him. It is their fan favourite for sure, a crowdpleaser and it’s easy to see why with its soaring melody and vocals.
Finishing with ‘The Road Goes On,‘ the band join hands and take a bow, front and centre of the stage and everyone in the hall is on their feet furiously applauding. This is a band that is so much more than their well known hits; if you get a chance go see them. Go for ‘Africa’ and ‘Roseanna‘ but you’ll stay for the brilliant songwriting and musicianship.