TOTO – 40 Years and Still Going Strong – Kansas City

A band being around for 40 years is a remarkable achievement, and one certainly worth celebrating. Toto did just that. Embarking on their 40 Trips Around the Sun tour, Toto began a trek around the world, which brought them to Kansas City, for the first time in at least a decade, so it was a night well worth celebrating for everyone. Building out a setlist, with nearly 40 years of material to choose from, is no easy feat “We wanted to play everything!” said vocalist Joseph Williams. With plenty of variety in the mix, Toto certainly played something for everyone through their two-hour set.

Toto kicked things off with Alone – a previously unreleased track that came out on their recently released 40 Trips Around the Sun greatest hits compilation. A bold move to open with material less familiar to audiences, but with a library as expansive as Toto’s, and such a long-standing legacy, it’s easy to see (hear?) it as a deep cut. More importantly though, nobody seemed to mind. After all, IT’S TOTO! The pace picked up quickly after that, with radio favorite Hold the Line. Though I was there to work, frantically getting as many photos off as I could, I couldn’t help but sing along to the classic anthem. 

As anyone who’s listened to Toto before knows, the band are masters of their craft, and as session musicians, they certainly had to deliver in the studio – Steve Lukather recorded Beat It for crying out loud! Having worked together recording for so many other artists, it only seemed natural for them to form their own band. In many ways, Toto is the original supergroup.

Though Joseph Williams was on lead vocals, guitarist Steve Lukather showed that Toto was very much his band, introducing most of the songs, and providing introductions for all band members. Lukather made a quip about taking substances at singer Joseph Williams’ father’s house, while playing the Jaws theme – yep, the singer for Toto is the son of famed film composer, John Williams. Who knew concerts could be so educational? I guess musical talent can be inherited.

 Toto’s set truly did include a little bit of everything, from the instrumental Desert Theme from the Dune soundtrack (giving Joseph a much needed break from vocals), to Michael Jackson hit Human Nature, which was written by keyboardist, Steve Pacaro. Steve Lukather (how many Steve’s are involved with Toto anyway?) also gave an emotional cover of The Beatles classic While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It may be heresy to say, but I think I like it more than the original.

One thing is apparent from seeing Toto play – they really are having fun on stage, and engaging the crowd. Going through a long set, late into the night, is no small task for anyone. And at an outdoor venue, with minimal seating, they kept the crowd entranced up through the end. They don’t take themselves too seriously, either; with Joseph introducing Lukather as “an extra terrestrial from the planet Zolar,” which would explain his other-worldly guitar skills.

Toto, having been around for 40 years, is very self-aware. As the evening drew to a close, Joseph announced “OK, it’s time for THAT song” before the unmistakable drums started echoing…it was time for Africa! I was surprised. I would have expected the audience to be filled with younger people, all eager to hear the song. While they were certainly in attendance, the crowd was mostly filled with people who had grown up with the band, and were able to appreciate the entire catalog. Radio favorites like Hold the Line and Africa were certainly great to hear, but it was some of the lesser heard songs, like Girl, Goodbye, or even fun, unexpected pieces, the like The Beatles cover, or Dune instrumental.

After Africa, Toto thanked Weezer for making their song a hit again, and returned the favor by playing a cover of Hash Pipe – which is now available for purchase as a single – it’s killer, go buy it, there’s no money to be made from streaming. After the band left the stage, and the audience began filing out of the Crossroads into the night, I was still trying to figure out what I had just experienced. I go to a lot of concerts. Concerts where I know the catalog well, and times where I don’t know the artist’s catalog at all. It’s not often that there’s an emotional high at the end. Toto has found a way to deliver narcotics through their music. It infects you, and brings you to a euphoric state, feeling great, as music should.

Even if you only know Toto from Africa becoming the internet’s favorite song, you should definitely still see them live. While their other songs might not have achieved that level of fame, their other material is just as incredible. Each musician is a master of their craft, and truly one of the best in the business. They are musician’s musicians, and one cannot help but be in awe of their performances. Do yourself a favor, and don’t wait for 50 Trips Around the Sun, or even 41. Go see Toto while you can.

Words and Photos by Josh Chaikin

Set list: Alone/Hold The Line/Lovers in the Night/Spanish Sea/I Will Remember/English Eyes/Jake to the Bone/Lea/Rosanna/Georgy Porgy/Human Nature/Holyanna/No Love/Mushanga/Stop Loving You/Girl Goodbye/Lion/Dune (Desert Theme)/While My Guitar Gently Weeps/Make Believe/Africa/Hash Pipe

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