Affectionately also referred to as "X" he also was the fifth Toto voice vocally. Paich needed time to rejuvenate himself after a rigorous European Toto 40 Trips run took its toll on him. Rounding out the Toto lineup was the ever present leader Steve Lukather on guitar and vocals, Joseph Williams lead and background vocals, Steve Porcaro on keys, Shannon Forrest on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion, Warren Ham on multi instruments with saxophone and vocals as his main weapons and Shem von Schroeck on bass and vocals.
This was an energetic, well thought out set list that had something for everyone. I see a ton of shows all over the country and some bands play the same set over and over. Not Toto. The Toto cannon wasn't afraid to blast off a new number from the start. "Alone" had the vocal parade starting immediately. Shem shined right off and was fitting in even more comfortably than before. According to Luke Shem was a Steve Porcaro find from Don Felders' (Eagles) solo band. The already energetic, long ago completely sold out Hall was even more juiced up for the signature song "Hold the Line". Luke and Lenny got their bonding moment out of the way early. Luke strutted over to Lennys' neighborhood and locked in with his 4 decade friend. As the crowd sang "Hold the Line" in unison Shem seemed ecstatic to be up on stage. Ham the multi, multi instrumentalist and Luke's partner in Ringo's All Starr band was on vocals only for the first two numbers. "Lovers in the Night" from the "Grammy album" Toto IV was next. Luke, Shem and Williams were up front of stage singing. Xavier had his head bobbing at rapid speed to the groove all night long. Luke encouraged the crowd to sing along and everyone obliged. As the night moved along I realized even further how much Shem added to this already powerful vocal band. The vocal meter was raised to further heights. Luke then laid down some blistering, then melodic guitar that brought those few sitting to their feet. He didn't have to play a million notes to get the job done. Lenny was in constant motion with his various array of instruments. The tireless percussionist was just Lenny being Lenny all night long.
Luke shouted out loudly " What's up Portland? It's nice to be back in the States". He then joked that "X" was a David Paich look a like"! Williams interjected "Uncanny"! "Spanish Sea" was the second 40 Trips number. This may have been a new song but it had me thinking it was an old Toto hit that I just forgotten about. It was from the "Isolation" sessions so I was partially correct as the touching song brought back never forgotten Porcaro brothers, Jeff and Mike to the new recording. Williams & Shem's vocal were once again soaring on this new yet familiar to the crowd number. "Brothers" Lenny and Shannon were literally on top of each other as I'd never seen before. There was no room to spare. The "brothers" held down their part of the stage throughout the night.
Luke introduced "I Will Remember" and praised "X's" ability to get into the flow after TWO rehearsals. Luke then gave "X" a big welcoming hug for stepping up to the Toto plate so quickly and immediately successfully. This was a FIVE vocal number with Luke, Williams, Shem, Ham and "X". Luke once again encouraged the crowd to join the Toto Five on the "Tambu" cut. The Portland throng adhered to Lukes command once again. "English Eyes" from "Turn Back" had all of the crowd standing and singing with the band. Luke and Williams were spotlighted center stage as now they grooved together. Shem moved stage right to jam next to "X". The Luke, Willams and Shem vocal show was center stage as now the vocals were at it's peak so far. Steve Porcaro held down the keyboards stage left during the night dancing and changing from single handed to double handed playing throughout the night. Most of the crowd know Luke and his guitar playing ability but he still had some shaking their heads at his six string ability.
"Jake to the Bone" the instrumental number had Williams moving off stage to catch a breather. This "muso" number ALWAYS reminds me of The Baked Potato as Luke has jammed this tune there once or twice. This number brought to my attention two great musical duos. The Lenny and Shannon show along with the Luke and Shem show. It spotlighted this bands ability to jam at warp like speed and then slow it down to perform beautiful ballads. As "X" heated up on the keyboards I asked myself 'is this REALLY only his third gig with Toto'? Luke definitely approved with nods and smiles. Steve P. held down the other side of the stage with his fingers flying. Luke then took over center stage with his precision like, clear, crisp playing without overdoing it. Lenny was running laps in his percussion abode doing continuous 360's on this number. Just like at The Baked Potato this crowds heads were moving in unity. "Lea" from the Joseph Williams led "Fahrenheit" was one of his spotlight moments. This song featured Ham on saxophone and Luke donning an acoustic guitar. This changed the set gear from 5th to 1st without missing a beat. This was another five vocalist song.
Before "Rosanna" Luke asked "Is everyone having a great time? Then get your asses up! This is a PARTY song"! Williams loudly added "I want to hear you sing"! Once again Rose City obeyed. Luke and Williams bounced back and forth on lead vocals. "X", Shem and Ham held down the rest of the vocal duties. Ham was on sax again coming across at one point to hang with "X". "X" and Steve P. took turns on keys back and forth. At one point Lenny and Shannon were in perfect unison almost looking like they were looking at each other in a mirror.
The acoustic part of the set was up next with some seldom played portions of rarities and the story behind them. Luke introduced the first of this portion of the set as the first song he ever played with Toto at aged 19, "Georgy Porgy". He even pinpointed the exact date as Jan. 9, 1977. Steve P. joined "X" stage right in a keyboard tandem with Luke, Williams and Shem left to right from the crowd. Luke and Williams again traded lead vocals on this funky, melodic number. The Steven Porcaro penned "Human Nature" from the worlds greatest selling album of all time "Thriller" by Michael Jackson selling 66 million copies. Porcaro himself told the story of the origin of the song. He told how his daughter had been bullied at school by a boy and she asked 'why'? Steve told her it's 'probably because he likes you'. Hence, we have "Human Nature" partially because of Steve's daughter. Shem really went above and beyond vocally on this number in a hair raising rendition of this MJ classic. Luke joked that he told Steven P. "One day somebody may cut one of your songs". "Holyanna" was played in honor of ailing David Paich with the Toto quartet of Luke, Williams,Shem and Ham leading the way on vocals. "No Love" from "Mindfields" written by Luke, Paich and Randy Goodrum truly showcased the joy from all on stage. When this much joy is conveyed on stage it's that much easier for the crowd to have a great time. That's what these guys live for. It's not the rehearsals, bus rides, hotels, different cities every day, time away from family and friends it's the 2 hours on stage. Ham featured another instrument as he added the harmonica to this tune. Williams introduced "Mushanga" as having a hypnotic groove and he was dead on. This rarely played Toto song from "The Seventh One", another Joseph Williams album led to more intrigue set list wise with surprise after surprise. Another "Seventh One" song "Stop Loving You" was a huge hit in Europe. Even though the speed of the set slowed a bit, Shannon and Lenny didn't slow down at all. This song brought Warren front and center on saxophone.
The gears shifted ahain into high gear on "Goodby Girl". A spotlight intro by "X" highlighted this rocking number and was fitting like a glove. Once again I questioned myself. His THIRD gig with Toto? Hard to believe. Williams energy and enthusiasm soared as did his vocals as Luke stepped up front and center with his fingers flying across his six strings. The thought of Lenny Castro's new solo CD came to mind as the title was a perfect description of his playing. "Hands of Silk and Stone". Luke mentioned to the crowd that Lenny's new CD was now available. He then talked about his friend since the age of 14 Joseph Williams. His band mate in Ringo's band Warren Ham, brilliant song writer Steven Porcaro, the two brothers separated at birth Shannon and Lenny, the great find from Felder's band Shem and the man who helped save the day by filling in for Paich, Xavier Taplin.
Luke introduced the next song as "a deep cut from 'Lion'. See if you remember it?' he asked the crowd. Josepd sang lead with a big help from Shem. Ringo All Starr Ham once again was on board with sax and vocals. I kept getting a greater respect for the set list as the night went on. Shannon and Lenny never let up. They were both in constant motion. Luke was front and center with another captivating solo which is the sole reason some fans come to Toto gigs to see his magic. The loudest Luuuuuuke chants of the night rang off the walls of Revolution Hall. "Dune" was the perfect vehicle for Lenny Castro. I recently interviewed him and his eyes lit up when talk of this number in the set list came up. Lenny truly looked like he was on skates sliding back and forth among his many instruments. "X" and Steven P. were holding down stage left and right on keyboards as if they had been playing for years together instead of just weeks. For Toto's ode to the Beatles "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" Luke told the crowd "This one means a lot to me. "Luke's passion vocally and through his guitar showed his true love of his friend Beatle, George Harrison. Williams added his vocals as Luke looked over with nods and smiles. Williams and Luke traded lead vocals back and forth and then sang in tandem. The outro guitar mesmerized the crowd to even louder Luuuuuke shouts.
Luke then said to the still standing crowd "are you ready for THAT SONG"? Luke had both arms fully extended with his signature Sammy Davis Jr. guitar hanging from his neck pointing directly at both "X" and Steven P., acknowledging their playing and especially on this number. "Africa" the 36 year old #1 was another Toto five singer ensemble that was this time joined by everyone again. Lenny got a true spotlight moment with even a chance to lead the crowd on vocals. Luke exited with a THANK YOU, Portland!
Toto walked off stage to thunderous applause. Some knew what was coming up. It was an even bigger surprise to those who didn't. Luke explained to the crowd how "Weezer" recorded "Africa" at the urgence of a 14 year old fan via the Internet. "Weezer" obliged and had a Top 5 hit with it on the Billboard charts. On this night BOTH "Weezer" and Toto have "Africa" on the Billboard Singles chart. Toto returned the favor and recorded the "Weezer" hit "Hash Pipe". Luke was floored as he said "It's the weirdest thing. We're going to be on Alternative Radio". Toto's live version of "Hash Pipe" was once again a five vocal number with some very cool eerie instrumentation coming from Luke and Company.
The combination of one of my favorite bands Toto, favorite guitarists and people Steve Lukather and favorite cities Portland, Oregon made the 1,000 mile trip from Los Angeles well worth it. I had a moment after the show to talk to Luke and he told me "We had a fun show. It was the third one with Xavier who has been great. Miss Dave a lot but as you know we speak of him a lot during the show and he’ll be back ASAP! This was a small gig that sold out fast, a long time ago so the crowd was ready. Feeling more relaxed about the show and band... we are still trying some new bits and arrangements as we do. Steve Porcaro told me "I love the Northwest! Vancouver, Seattle and Portland are some of my favorite places. I love the rain and the people there - they know good music."
Toto VIP Experience San Diego California 8/7/18
The Toto VIP Package is a great way to experience a legitimate Toto sound check. We were at Humphrey's by the Sea, Shelter Island, San Diego, California. In addition to the sound check, there is a question and answer session, autograph and photo opportunity. This is one of my favorite venues in the Country. It's one of the coolest, most relaxing venues there is. I've seen legitimate sound checks at this same venue by my friends Vince Gill, A Flock of Seagulls, Gene Loves Jezebel, and by friends with Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless. This Toto check was not a set up phony check. This was the real deal.
Right from the start, there were as always, in EVERY sound check, equipment and sound issues. Additional acrylic drum shielding was added around Shannon Forrest's drum kit. There were minor sound issues worked out. This band isn't Blue Oyster Cult but they were checking the cowbell levels anyway. Luke immediately greeted everyone with a "very nice of you all to come out". He welcomed newcomer to the band keyboard player and singer Xavier "X" Taplin with a "say hi to a seriously scary musician. Xavier "X". Scary GOOD"! As everyone was dialing their sound Luke anxiously said a couple of times "let's play"! "Alone" was the first sound check number for the VIP crowd. With only about 45 of us there, it did feel like we were someplace special. After running through bits of "Alone" a couple of times Luke vocally led on "I Will Remember" with help from Joseph Williams and Shem von Schroeck.
New song "Spanish Sea" was up next. It was started and then stopped as there were some minor sound issues in the works unbeknownst to all band members, hence the quick stop. But this is what sound checks are for. Luke had told me earlier that they "are feeling more relaxed about the show and band... still trying some new bits and arrangements." During the downtime between songs, questions were asked. One was directed to Luke and immediately answered by him before it could be finished without hesitation. The question was "I heard you don't like the song "99"". Luke said "NOT TRUE"! That was easy. Another VIP patron asked Luke about his feelings on their 36-year-old #1 hit, "Africa" being played by Weezer. He said "IT'S AWESOME"! Later he told me "Life is great in our world now. Our new single of "Hash Pipe" drops Friday. It IS a trip to get this buzz on us 41 years later... but we'll take it! Things have truly NEVER been better in the band... I just wish Jeff and Mike were here to enjoy it with us. They are in spirit. Maybe THEY are doing all this"?
Steve Porcaro moved to stage right with "X" to work on the intimate acoustic portion of the set. "Georgy Porgy" and "Human Nature". This prompted the next question of who came up with the riff for Georgy Porgy? Luke said "David Paich. Who is going to be okay." Luke introduced original Toto keyboard player Steve Porcaro as "an up and coming songwriter". "Human Nature" is one of the best songs ever written. "X" nodded in complete agreement. Luke made sure everyone knew about "Human Nature" saying about Porcaro "he DID write that one"! "Lea" still from the acoustic part of the set featured Joseph. Then it came time to clown around vocally as Williams started his Frank Sinatra imitation then working his way back into "Lea".
The next question from the crowd was "how did you get Don Henley to play on your record? Luke bluntly said, "we asked him! He's our friend." Steve Porcaro said " We played on "Dirty Laundry" and "Boys of Summer". Not to be forgotten in this day was the crew. The band rolled off the bus and the gear was already set up and ready to play. Jon Gosnell is Luke's right-hand man and is always right there where he needs to be. Ken Freeman dials in the sound to perfection indoors/outdoors whatever the case may be. Luke then told everyone at the end of sound check "now it's time to come out and say hello". It was now time for autographs and pictures. It was a perfect way to end this priceless experience.
I recently reviewed the Portland, Oregon gig so only a few mentions of this show. Xavier is fitting in well and is even more fluid and comfortable than when I saw show #3 with only two rehearsals under his belt. This was another sold-out show among the many on this Tour. Luke went the same route as my pal, Vince Gill, slightly jabbing those in boats, kayaks, and canoes who watched from the adjacent marina for free. Luke said "you guys owe me money! I'm kidding." So any true Toto fan would love this up close intimate personal experience.