Judge Bill Gibron has no idea where the Hydra might be.
What exactly is 99, and how can you love it?
A little over six years ago, yours truly wrote a review of the 2008 release Toto: Falling in Between Live and the results were not pretty. To quote from that critical masterwork: "Generic and skillfully programmed, (this concert) is the efficiency expert's idea of rock and roll excitement." I was particularly harsh on the notion of Toto touring without several of their founding members. Now, granted, it's hard to dig up the dead and sit them behind a drum kit, nor would any fan want unhappy (or unhealthy) members of the former session sensation standing onstage for a mere paycheck, but in the end, I found the show wanting in several categories. The song selection rambled, relying greatly on a generic recent release and far too many post-hit parade numbers. The playing was apathetic and relatively uninspired, and the audience, while eating most of it up, only erupted when familiar tracks like "Hold the Line" and "Africa" started up. The final assessment was more along the lines of a random experience instead of a special event.
Well, things have changed in the last few years. Maybe I've mellowed, or perhaps I am so used to old bands—Styx, Journey, Kansas—touring with one or two original members and a whole lot of unidentifiable background musicians that I no longer get my panties in a wedge over such situations. In the case of this 2013 show, culled from the group's 35 Anniversary tour (that means I was 17 when they hit big???) the fact that only three original bandmates are onstage—keyboardist and vocalist David Paich, guitarist and vocalist Steve Lukather, and keyboardist Steve Porcaro—it really didn't seem to matter. Joined by vocalist Joseph Williams (son of Oscar winning composer John), bassist Nathan East (in for ailing original member Mike Porcaro) and drummer Keith Carlock, the band run through a list of their greatest hits, doing the ATM oriented nostalgia thing with ease and a significant amount of oomph.
The opening medley of "On the Run"/Child's Anthem"/Goodbye Elenore" might be a bit proggy for the Polish crowd, but they respond in appreciative shrieks. Once we hit the Hydra material (the title track and "St. George and the Dragon") the show really picks up steam. Even the ballads-"I Won't Hold You Back," "99," "I'll Be Over You"-come across with a real passion. In some ways, you have to feel sorry for Williams. He is replacing iconic frontman Bobby Kimball (who's vocals on "Hold the Line" more or less defined the band in the '70s) and has a lot of really high notes to hit. Still, he manages with amazing skill. Similarly, Lukather and Paich, though significantly older than their previous pop chart incarnations, do great jobs on such classics as "Africa" and "Rosanna." You can immediately see the difference between this showcase and Falling in Between. This is a celebration of the band's entire career and the set list supports this. Besides, even as they push 60, this group still has its session chops. The playing is effortless and the results highly entertaining.
As for tech specs, Eagle Rock's Toto: Live in Poland (Blu-ray) is excellent. The 1.78:1/1080i image is clean and crisp, providing a bit too much detail for these aging rockers. You can see the sweat beading across the foreheads and the tell tale signs of hair dye and pancake make-up. Still, the overall presentation is near pristine. As for the sonic situation, either mix is excellent, with the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio offering trumping the standard LPCM 2.0 Stereo for its spatial integrity and added ambience. You really get the live concert experience with the multichannel results. As for added content, there is an interesting backstage featurette, including interviews with Porcaro, Lukather, Paich and Williams, and there are interesting nuggets to be gleaned. They emphasize that they were a high school rock band BEFORE becoming session players, and that it's still fun to get up and play the material from many decades ago.
There's nothing wrong with having a change of heart, especially when it revolves around reevaluating something you were, perhaps, too critical of before. Back in 2008, I found Toto and Falling in Between Live tolerable. This 35th Anniversary Tour document from Poland, on the other hand, was a treat.
Not guilty. A good time was had by all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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