By Darren Paltrowitz
Being a "classic rock band" has many trappings. For starters, the majority of people coming to see your show are only there for the hit(s). Furthermore, it almost seems like a law that your lineup cannot include more than two original members. Journey? Only guitarist Neil Schon. Foreigner? Only guitarist Mick Jones. Styx? Only guitarist James "J.Y." Young. In the case of Toto - who I went to see at Tokyo's Forum Hall - still standing are vocalist Bobby Kimball and guitarist Steve Lukather.
When I found out that I had landed two tickets to see Toto - on less than 24 hours' notice - I didn't have high expectations. I knew "Rosanna," "Africa," and "Hold The Line," but was far from a fan; "Hold The Line" being the only track in my iPod. I was going with the intention of laughing at the anticipated pretension of the almighty prog-rock, hearing a few hits, and then leaving early. Yet I - arguably the only foreigner in the entire audience, which must have been near its 5,012 capacity - not only stayed for the entire performance, but would have gladly stayed for an encore.
Going back to that "prog-rock" label, one thing that has always made Toto stand out from its peers is the musicianship. Such isn't particularly apparent in the aforementioned hits, but the members of Toto have collectively played on thousands of sessions and written songs for likes of Michael Jackson, George Benson, and Boz Skaggs. In fact, the recently-added keyboardist Greg Phillinganes has worked and toured with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and Eric Clapton, and replacement drummer Simon Phillips was with The Who. Normally this turns me off from liking a band, like Dream Theater, where there's such little soul in the music because of the excessive need to solo, add in breakdowns, and so on. While there was some needless noodling, none of that was forced into the ballads nor acoustic set.
While I do not agree with bassist Mike Porcaro's introduction of Steve Lukather as the best guitarist "in the world," Lukather was excellent. However, Porcaro shined even more as the designated leader and spokesman. Although he did some of the anticipated "Domo arigato" stuff that all bands seem to do when they're playing in Japan, his English-language banter was excellent. One example was introducing the other musicians on-stage of five of the most "flamboyantly gay" people that he's ever met. And at another point, he referred to another artist's cover of a song that he was about to play as buying him his new "house in the desert." As said, I believe that I was the only non-crew native English speaker in the house, so props to him for making jokes that went over everybody's head but mine.
The audience, at times, were just as entertaining as the band. Japanese people never miss out on an opportunity to yell or cheer in response to a question like "Are you having a good time?" They applaud when the lights go down before the show starts. They even applaud after the announcement that the show will be starting shortly. Either these people are seriously depraved of entertainment in their everyday lives, or they are so enamored with live music that they drop all pretense and have as best of a time as possible. In America, people know that the best is going to do the big hit or some sort of classic as the closer, but the applause from this crowd, you would have thought that Toto was going to leave without doing "Africa."
As this Sunday show started at 5pm sharp, we were let out shortly before 7pm. Toto, we salute you for your rock & your consideration for those who have early bedtimes.
Next step on the classic rock concert train? Deep Purple.