PHOENIX — Toto’s “40 Trips Around the Sun” world tour in support of last year’s eponymous greatest hits collection, and in celebration of their milestone 40th anniversary, came to the Celebrity Theatre. The theatre’s circular structure with its round center stage means there’s not a bad seat in the house, with every spot offering a close vantage point. This was perfect for the night’s show because it removed the feeling of barriers from the fans who so love a band that so clearly loves their fans in return.
Before the show started, the audience was promised that it was going to be two hours long, “with no opening act and no intermission,” and that we wouldn’t want to miss a minute — practically an understatement for the night to come. This tour has been a well-earned victory lap for Toto. The audience was not only filled with long-time fans, but also with younger fans who were new to the band; finding them through an occurrence of events starting just as they were making plans for the then-upcoming release and tour.
Toto’s signature song, and most enduring hit, “Africa” features one of pop music’s greatest hooks: “I bless the rains down in Africa.” A perfect storm occurred on the cusp of Toto’s 40th anniversary that reignited them, restored their proper place in popular culture, and reminded everyone exactly how incredible of a band they have always been. In December of 2017, nearly two months to the day before Toto would release their career-spanning greatest hits collection, a young Weezer fan began tweeting the band asking them to cover Toto’s “Africa.” When Weezer finally relented and performed the song on Jimmy Kimmel Live, with a guest appearance from Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro, a new generation of fans flocked to Toto to discover what so many of us already knew: Toto is one of pop music’s most consistent bands, churning out catchy, crowd-pleasing songs for 40 years.
As soon as Toto emerged on the ramp and took their spots at their instruments at 8 o’clock, the energy they brought to the round stage in the center of the theatre was palpable. The show’s opening number was “Devil’s Tower,” a previously unreleased gem originally recorded during the sessions for Toto IV but left off. It felt fresh and immediately energized the crowd that was ready to pop in anticipation of Toto’s arrival.
The second song of the set, “Hold the Line,” from their self-titled debut, brought the crowd to their feet for the first of many times in the night. It was during this moment that the stage began to rotate, as they played through a rolling wave of audience members singing the chorus of “Hold the line, love isn’t always on time.” What made this moment truly special was to see the fans in attendance who had been with the band for all 40 of those trips around the sun, singing the song alongside their own children, who are new converts.
Keeping with the tour’s mission statement, Toto’s setlist was a journey through their history with stops at every album along the way. “Lovers in the Night,” from their 1982 landmark album Toto IV, was followed by the brand new track “Alone” from last year’s greatest hits collection; a song whose foot-tapping rhythm seated it firmly alongside so many of their classic songs.
After runs through “I Will Remember” from 95’s Tambu and “English Eyes” from 81’s Turn Back, they cut loose on the extended bluesy jam of “Jack to the Bone” from 92’s Kingdom Of Desire. With the crowd energized, and the musicians clearly having a good time on stage, they next went into “Rosanna,” also from Toto IV, and arguably Toto’s second biggest hit. With the stage turning, and the crowd rocking, singer Joseph Williams made stops with each part of the crowd to let them have their moment to sing the infectious chorus “Meet you all the way, meet you all the way, Rosanna, yeah.” They kept the song going well past its album length, so that everyone had a chance to have their moment with the band.
As “Rosanna” closed out, chairs were brought out on stage, and the show took an intimate turn, as members told stories of the origins of a couple of the songs, in a style reminiscent of VH1’s classic series Storytellers. Founding member Steve Lukather told the story of keyboard player David Paich writing “Georgy Porgy,” and though Lukather at first thought the song was a little silly, it ended up being the first vocal he recorded for Toto and one of the staples of their live shows ever since.
Next, keyboardist Porcaro told the story of picking his daughter up from school, on the same day Toto was recording “Africa,” and she was crying because a boy had pushed her off the slide. As he drove her home, she asked him repeatedly through her tears, “Why?,” and though he tried his best to explain to her that the boy probably liked her, she kept asking “Why?” By the time he dropped her off and got back to the studio, her question of “Why?” had given way to a chorus of, “Why? Why? It’s only human nature,” and would turn into the song “Human Nature” written by Porcaro and performed by Michael Jackson on his album Thriller. On this night, they played a lush rendition of the song, with Porcaro singing the words inspired by his heartbroken daughter.
At this point, the chairs went away, and the musicians ran through the thematically-linked 1-2-3 punch of “I’ll Be Over You,” “No Love,” and “Stop Loving You,” before all members briefly left the stage. Meanwhile, touring keyboard player Dominique “Xavier” Taplin, filling in for original member David Paich, played what initially felt like a piano interlude but gave way to a longer, beautiful arrangement that left the crowd in awe. Taplin had previously played in Prince’s last touring band and this solo piano performance made it evident why Prince had enlisted his talents.
“Lion” from 1981’s Isolation was followed by a brief story of writing music for the David Lynch film Dune and trying to make the music sound “as David Lynchian” as they could. The ensuing performance of “Dune (Desert Theme”), so fitting for Arizona’s own dry landscape, showed the song was vintage Toto, even if they were trying to make it sound Lynchian. Lukather talked briefly of their 2002 album Through the Looking Glass, a collection of cover songs by artists that had either influenced the band early on or of whom they were fans. Identifying George Harrison as both his first guitar hero and later his friend, Lukather led them in a cover of The White Album classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that both paid loving tribute and also featured some Toto flourishes, including Lukather adding an extended guitar solo to the end of the song.
After playing “Make Believe,” them gave the crowd the moment they wanted: “Africa.” It should be noted here that song’s reputation is well-earned, as it is indeed truly a pop masterpiece. On a night where it was obvious how much fun Toto was having on the tour, this was the moment you could tell they relished the most. The performance was note-perfect, and set up the final moment of goodwill and love between a band and their audience, as they turned the singing over, giving the crowd one more chance to come together and show their love for Toto. With everyone on their feet, singing and dancing, Toto played on but stepped back from their mics, and the audience took the final chorus. One by one, the founding members left the stage, leaving the touring members to keep the groove going, while the crowd sang on. Percussionist Lenny Castro, who has played with Toto from their early days, took the lead on congas to accompany the crowd.
When Toto returned to the stage for the encore, a rollicking performance of “Home of the Brave” from a 1988’s The Seventh One, the end of the show and the band’s choice for a closer felt like a parting piece of advice to the crowd. Just as Toto has made their 40 trips around the sun, staying true to the ethos they established for themselves on trip number one in 1978, this moment was a reminder to all to keep themselves moving forward with each of their trips, and that we are in charge of our future and our fate with the show’s final lyrics: “You gotta remember, you don’t have to be afraid. You still have the freedom to learn and say what you wanna say. You gotta remember, don’t let ’em take away the land we call the home of the brave.”
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Toto – Celebrity Theatre 9-21-19
Photography © Reagle Photography
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