Sirk TV Concert Review: Toto & Michael McDonald [Hard Rock Live – Hollywood, FL]
The combination of two 70s music powerhouses always speaks to the notion of longevity and musicianship. Some receive acclaim. Some retreat into the shadows. Finding the balance at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood obviously depends on the fan you speak to. The double bill of artists like Toto and Michael McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers, rests solely on what kind of venue you play. Here, the bombastic nature of Toto resident guitar guru Steve Lukather stands true since whenever he started going off the place went nuts.
Toto had its heighday in the early 80s when Toto IV won a slew of Grammys. Despite their enormous talent, they never quite achieved that type of success as a group again. The reality though is that all of them, especially core member Lukather and David Paich (who has only returned to be on this tour) have been studio musicians and writers on some of the biggest albums of all time, most conspicuously Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. When they burst out on the stage here, they started with “On The Run”, a deep cut but still hard moving in terms of progression. Angling in next they went for one of their biggest hits: “Rosanna”which resounds with heavy guitar riffs and an ending bridge which Lukather took full advantage of to splay as many interconnecting notes as he possibly could, The next track “Do You Want My Love” incorporated a distinct harmony that had not been seen in a previous Toto tour of the past ten years. Toto, for this tour brought back Joseph Williams who was involved as singer in some of their mid 80s albums, Unlike many vocalists, Williams, who seemed more of a baby within the band back in the day, has benefited from the maturity as his voice is infinitely stronger and more powerful. Here, mixing with the oft not seen Paich resurrected a sound largely missing from modern Toto. “I’ll Be Over You” highlighted a transition time in Toto’s trajectory with Lukather taking on much of the lead vocal duties. It is this song where Michael McDonald was incorporated. In the interests of the tour he came out and sang in what to many was a rare occasion as these groups don’t often interact. “Pamela” which Joseph Williams originally sang on back in the late 80s has a particular nostalgia for this writer as I remember traversing the Grand Canyon with Toto’s Greatest Hits Album when I was barely 15. This song seemed to capture that time in some way. “99”, the next song, illustrated a sense of the musicality of the group in many ways since Lukather incorporated spanish guitar to great effect and it altered the perception of the song. What this song led into was an extended interaction between instrumental piano and guitar between Paich at a classic standup piano and Lukather on an amplified acoustic. The duo famously did a lot of the work on the score for David Lynch’s “Dune” and you could hear a hint of that collaboration in this interlude. “Georgy Porgy”, by comparison, brought in the funk by bringing in a more soulful beat optimizing the back up singer to dexterous effect. “Home” was preceded by David Paich speaking about songwriting. He seemed caught up more in the emotion of this tour and spoke that Jimmy Wepp taught him that songs should mean something as well if the world is listening at a time. This ancedote led in with somberness to Paich’s big hit “Africa” which he sang lead on. The whole audience, of course, knew the words and Williams filled in original lead singer Bobby Kimball’s shoes quite well despite a different voice all together. “Hold The Line” was their earliest hit and distinctly enough was the closer that got the crowd completely on its feet especially with the bombastic end. I have seen Toto in small venues and those work but there is something about their instrumentation that really seems to expand in an arena setting.
Michael McDonald, by comparison, truly seems to work more in intimate settings because his voice is so distinct. His famous split from the Doobie Brothers still resounds in that he, in essence, wrote a lot of their hits. But like Lionel Richie and the Commodores and Peter Cetera and Chicago, the voice isn’t everything. You need the original instrumentation to reveal that magic. The musicians with McDonald were good and many have made great accomplishments of their own but that difference in dichotomy was very clear, especially with Toto playing right before. McDonald began with the Doobies tunes “I Need Your Love” followed by “Keep You Running”. Especially with the latter, the aspect of the song being sung in a lower key was very apparent since many of the Doobie hits require a falsetto with overlaying backing vocals. Granted the person doing the background vocals on his own recording was probably McDonald but without someone to recreate and match that, the interpretation loses some of its luster. The seque into his defining solo hit “Sweet Freedom” from the movie “Running Sacred” burgeoned up feelings of South Florida because of its requisite video and hit those beats despite the lack of a full horn section. “I Keep Forgetting” played on irony since McDonald mentioned that its meaning to him keeps changing. “Aint No Love To Be Found” which McDonald co-wrote with James Ingram followed with a sense of edge as well as sentimentality. The crowd started to come to their feet on “Bit By Bit” as McDonald found his grove before launching into “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, a cover which had people dancing. Next was a cover of the Kenny Loggins hit “This Is It” which McDonald co-wrote and provided background vocals on. This spike provided an infinite amount of energy that pinnacled his show before the close of “What A Fool Believes”, arguably the Doobies’ biggest hit. The encore brought out the crew from Toto which added a energetic dynamic that made the resulting songs sound more like a jam session. This is what makes his songs sound best. A good example is that Billy Joel always worked better with his full band around him from the 70s and 80s because it fed his energy. As an example, the place seemed to erupt with the encore closer of “Takin’ It To The Streets”.
The Toto/Michael McDonald set at the Hard Rock Live In Hollywood definitely created an intensity of energy with Toto leading the charge but boosting the magic of McDonald whose hit-making abilities still stand the test of time.