Toto Delivers Top-Notch Musicianship at State Theatre New Jersey

40th anniversary tour gig features career-spanning set, including big hits, deeper cuts and covers

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While I have listened to Toto for more than 30 years, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. But my wife really likes them, so when I mentioned to her a couple of months ago they would play in our neck of the woods as part of their 40th anniversary tour, she suggested that we see them. I’m glad we did Wednesday night at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick, since the show was fun and definitely exceeded my expectations.

When I checked setlist.fm for the most recent gigs of the 40 Trips Around The Sun tour, initially, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see any songs from Toto’s second studio album Hydra, especially 99. I also found it interesting that they chose to include three somewhat random-looking covers in their set, though it turned out these selections weren’t coincidental. 

Toto
Core members of Toto (from left): Joseph Williams, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather

I’ve always appreciated Toto for their outstanding musicianship, which was on full display Wednesday night and a key reason why I enjoyed the show. Not only did they sound fantastic, but some of the music they played had pretty impressive complexity that nicely illustrated the band’s top-notch craftsmanship. Shockingly, to me the highlight in this context was Jake To The Bone, an instrumental from 1993. I say “shockingly” since I generally really like vocals and I’m less into instrumentals. With that, let’s get to some music.

The first time I heard about Toto must have been in the late ’70s when a friend gave me a rock compilation as a present, which included Hold The Line. I liked this tune right away and still do to this day, especially the keyboard and guitar parts. Written by keyboardist David Paich, the song first appeared on the band’s eponymous studio album from October 1978.

Next up is the above mentioned Jake To The Bone from the band’s eighth studio record Kingdom Of Desire, released in Europe in September 1992 and in the U.S. in May 1993. It was credited to all core members of the band at the time: Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Paich (piano, organ, synthesizer, backing vocals), Mike Porcaro (bass) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion).  Unfortunately, I missed videotaping this great instrumental, so I’m relying on another clip I found on YouTube. Apparently, it was captured during the opening show of the tour’s European leg in Helsinki, Finland back in February.

Toto’s fourth studio album from April 1982, ingeniously called Toto IV, became their most successful record. Apart from top 10 chart placements in various countries, including Australia (no. 1), Canada (no. 1), U.S. (no. 4) and U.K. (no. 4), Toto IV also won a Grammy for Album Of The Year and five additional Grammy Awards in 1983. Here is the record’s lead single Rosanna, another Paich composition.

During the second half of the set, there was a sitdown section featuring shortened versions of various songs, including Holyanna, No Love, Stop Loving You and a cover of Human Nature, one of the tracks from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Originally, that tune was written by keyboardist Steve Porcaro. The tune I’d like to feature from this section is Stop Loving You. Toto first recorded it for The Seventh One, their seventh studio album from March 1988. Co-written by Paich and Lukather, the tune also became one of the record’s six singles.

Of course, no Toto gig would be complete without Africa, another track from Toto IV. Co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the song became Toto’s most successful single. It hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbed to no. 3 in the U.K., and scored top 20 positions in various other countries. Africa was the last song of the regular set, and the band stretched it into a close to 13-minute jam version that featured a cool percussion and drums solo.

There was only one encore: A cover of Hash Pipe, a 2001 song by American rock band Weezer. Toto decided to record and release the tune in August 2018, after Weezer had come out with cover versions of Africa and Rosanna. While it’s nice the bands recognize each other’s music with these covers, I still found it a bit of an odd choice for the encore, especially given that was the only additional song Toto performed. To me it would have made more sense to throw in an original tune like the above mentioned 99. That being said, the entire show lasted two hours, which I felt was pretty solid.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the band that performed on Wednesday night. Steve Lukather, Steve Pocaro and David Paich are still part of the core line-up. The fourth core member is Joseph Williams (lead vocals). Paich is sitting out the U.S. leg of the tour. According a previous announcement, the European gigs earlier this year took a toll on his health, but Lukather assured the audience his recovery is going well. Sitting in for Paich is Dominique “Xavier” Talpin, an excellent keyboardist who among others had played with Prince. The other touring members include Lenny Castro (percussion, congas), multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham (saxophone, harmonica, flute, backing vocals), Shannon Forrest (drums) and Shem von Schroeck (bass, backing vocals).

Upcoming tour dates include Brookville, N.Y. tonight and the closer of the American leg in Lynn, Mass. tomorrow night. The band resumes the tour at the end of December with a series of dates in Australia and New Zealand, before going to Japan in February. Then they take a break and return to Europe in June and July. The last currently posted date is Salem, Germany (Jul 18). The full schedule is here. This may not be the end of the tour. The dates in Australia and Japan were announced fairly recently, and I could see additional announcements, such as a second U.S. leg. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto website, YouTube

Sheryl Crow Releases Engaging Live Album

Live at the Capitol Theatre presents career-spanning set from 2017 tour

Many folks, who like me dig the late ’60s and focused their attention on the major reissues of the White Album and Electric Ladyland, may have missed this new album that also appeared on Friday: Sheryl Crow Live At The Capitol Theatre. It popped up this morning under new music in my streaming service, and it’s just great fun to listen to. Now I feel like adding Crow to my list of artists I’d like to see!

Crow entered my radar screen with her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, which was released in August 1993. You couldn’t switch on the radio in those days without encountering the catchy All I Wanna Do. There are other great tunes on that record as well, such as the lead single Run Baby Run. But for some reason, that song didn’t even chart in the U.S., unlike All I Wanna Do, which became Crow’s biggest hit here, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Overall, this was a hugely successful debut for Crow, ending up at no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and with a RIAA 7X Multi-Platinum Certification, as of February 1997.

Sheryl Crow and Band at Capitol Theatre

While I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a huge Sheryl Crow fan, I’ve consistently listened to her over the past 20-plus yeas. To me she’s a genuine artist who not only writes much of her own music and has a great ear for catchy pop rock songs but who also is a real musician. And let’s face it, the music industry is pretty male-dominated, so as a lady, she has to work twice as hard to get the recognition she deserves. With that said, let’s get to some music.

I’d like to kick things off with My Favorite Mistake, the opener to Crow’s third studio album The Globe Sessions, which came out in September 1998. She co-wrote the tune with her longtime collaborator Jeff Trott.

Next up: Be Myself, the title track from Crow’s last studio album released in April 2017, which is also the record that her 2017 tour supported. Like all other songs on that album, it was co-written by Crow and Trott, who also served as co-producer.

Here’s the above mentioned Run Baby Run. The tune from Crow’s debut album is credited to her; producer Bill Bottrell, who also played guitar and pedal steel on the record; and guitarist David Baerwald.

If I could only select one Sheryl Crow song, it would be If It Makes You Happy. I just love that tune, which became the lead single to her eponymous second studio album from September 1996. It’s another Crow-Trott co-write.

The last track I’d like to call out is a nice cover of a song by one of my all-time favorite bands: Midnight Rider by The Allman Brothers Band. The classic, which appeared on the Brothers’ second studio album Idlewild South from September 1970, was primarily penned by Gregg Allman. According to Wikipedia, a roadie, Robert Kim Payne, helped Allman to finish the song’s lyrics and received a co-credit.

The album appears on Cleopatra Records and is available in DVD, Blu-ray, audio CD packages. The concert, which was the final gig of Crow’s 2017 tour, was filmed in its entirety at the historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., a place that has seen many great music acts. Here’s a nice teaser clip that addresses this aspect of the show.

“Very rarely, you walk into a venue and deeply feel the musical history of the place,” said Crow in an announcement issued by Rock Fuel Media, which managed the filming of the show. “The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York is one of those places, with so many legendary shows by artists like The Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers…..their imprint resonates. The vibe really elevated our performance – my band goes out and kills every night, but this set was on another level entirely. I’m so glad we were able to capture this show on film, it was one of those really special nights.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Sheryl Crow website, YouTube

Thanksgiving Is Coming Up…And An Annual Rock & Roll Marathon

Will Stairway To Heaven finally be toppled from the no. 1 spot it has held for 17 straight years on Q104.3’s Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time?

When hearing Thanksgiving, it’s safe to assume most folks think of family, friends, turkey and other feasts. To many it also involves travel to spend time together with their loved ones. While there’s nothing wrong with all of that, to me the upcoming holiday first and foremost means it’s time again for classic rock radio station Q104.3’s annual tradition to play the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time, as voted by listeners. I suppose the fact that I care of much about this rock & roll marathon indicates I can be quite nerdy. But when it comes to music, that’s just fine with me!

Playing 1,043 rock songs means many hours of great rock music. And, yes, each is fully played, even Pink Floyd’s epic 23-minute Echoes! In order to accommodate all that music, Q104.3 needs to start the countdown the day before Thanksgiving at 1:00 pm ET and go all the way to Sunday evening – a fantastic listening experience for any rock fan! It’s also a nice break from the 50 or so songs they tend to play all the time – just like most other radio stations do!

Collage

One of the things I find remarkable about the list, which is compiled for the 18th time this year and presented in a countdown from no. 1,043 to no. 1,  is that for the past 17 years, Stairway to Heaven has consistently captured the no. 1 spot. While I dig Led Zeppelin and, if given only one choice, may even select the tune myself as the greatest rock song ever, the reality is there are so many other outstanding classic rock tunes. As such, I feel it’s time to shake up the list! While I doubt there will be many changes in the top 10, following are my selections I submitted earlier this morning.

1. Sunshine Of Your LoveCream (78)

2. Purple HazeJimi Hendrix Experience (80)

3. LaylaDerek & The Dominoes (4)

4. TushZZ Top (865)

5. Stairway To HeavenLed Zeppelin (1)

6. While My Guitar Gently WeepsThe Beatles (29)

7. RefugeeTom Petty and the Heartbreakers (110)

8. Dead FlowersThe Rolling Stones (547)

9. SoulshineThe Allman Brothers Band (-)

10. EchoesPink Floyd (311)

The numbers in parentheses indicate the ranks of the songs in last year’s countdown. One, Soulshine by The Allman Brothers Band, didn’t make the cut – I told ya, I’m a music nerd! In case you’d like to join the fun, you can enter your submissions here. Happy voting and happy listening!

Sources: Q104.3 website

Clips & Pix: The Beatles/While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Third Version/Take 27)

I know I just posted about the 50th anniversary edition of the White Album. In the meantime, I’ve further explored the massive reissue and simply couldn’t resist to write more about it.

The above clip is a studio take of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, one of my favorite George Harrison songs. In addition to George (vocals, Hammond organ, acoustic guitar), it features John Lennon (electric guitar), Paul McCartney (vocals, piano, bass), Ringo Starr (drums, tambourine, castanets) and Eric Clapton (lead guitar).

Not only have I gained a new appreciation for the incredible variety of music The Beatles wrote for this album (just consider the differences between tracks like Blackbird, Helter Skelter and Revolution 9), but it’s also been an eye-opener how unlike Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they mostly recorded the White Album as a band playing live in the studio. Based on background chatter, it’s also obvious to me they had a good deal of fun.

You don’t sense any of the tension between them you always read about. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. After all it’s a fact that Ringo walked out at some point, since he couldn’t take it any longer. But it’s also true that John, Paul and George truly wanted him to come back and decorated the entire studio with flowers when he did.

So despite of all the conflict, The Beatles were still able to function as a band, as mind-boggling as that sounds! During a fascinating 90-minute panel discussion about the White Album, which you can still watch on YouTube here, Giles Martin attributed this in part to the fact that John, Paul, George and Ringo really appreciated each other as musicians. At some point, he also appears to doubt that the conflicts between The Beatles were as bad as is commonly thought.

Sources: YouTube

50th Anniversary Editions Of Two Iconic Albums Released

The Beatles’ White Album and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland are celebrated with major reissues

Today could be a first, or in case I’m wrong, it’s safe to say this doesn’t happen often: Two major reissues of albums by iconic music artists appearing the same day. The White Album by The Beatles and Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience are now officially out. Other than what’s currently available in Apple Music I don’t have access to any of the actual special releases at this time, yet I’d feel remiss not write about these special editions.

While the White Album isn’t my favorite Beatles album and I tend to agree with those who say they should have put the strongest songs on one record rather than releasing a double album, The Beatles remain my all-time favorite band. That’s likely not going to change. Moreover, based on what I’ve read and heard, this reissue definitely features material that intrigues me. As for Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland would be my no. one album choice overall, even though it doesn’t include my two favorite Hendrix tunes: Purple Haze and Hey Joe.

The White Album 50th Anniversary Configurations

The White Album reissue is available in four configurations: A Super Deluxe 7-disc set (on the left in above picture) featuring 50 mostly previously unreleased recordings all newly mixed with 5.1 surround audio as well as the so-called Esher Demos; a deluxe 4-LP edition; a 2-LP issue (pictured above in the middle); and a deluxe 3-CD set (on the right in the above image). The remixed original tracks, the Esher Demos and additional takes are also available on iTunes/Apple Music and other digital and streaming services.

Similar to last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band anniversary edition, Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, worked together with mix engineer Sam Okell. They newly mixed the album’s 30 original tracks in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, together with 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which weren’t released in any form previously. While I have no doubt the sound is fantastic and superior to previous recordings, for the most part I can’t hear the differences. That’s largely because the streaming versions are lower quality than the CDs or vinyl records. And, yes, part of it may also be explained by some hearing loss I can’t deny! Here’s a cool lyric video of the 2018 mix of Back In The U.S.S.R.

Given the above mentioned sound quality constraints, what’s more intriguing to me, are the additional demo and session tracks, particularly the Esher Demos that were recorded in May 1968 at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. These are early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn’t make the album.

Two of the tunes that weren’t included on the White Album, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, ended up on Abbey Road. Not Guilty, a Harrison composition, was eventually released on his eponymous studio album from February 1979, his eighth studio record. And then there’s John Lennon’s Child Of Nature, which became Jealous Guy and was included on Lennon’s second solo album Imagine from September 1971 – admittedly stuff that is likely to primarily excite Beatles fans like myself.

Two things are very striking to me about these Esher Demos. The amount of writing was just remarkable during a time when tensions among The Beatles were increasing, which even led to Ringo Starr’s temporary departure. But despite their differences, somehow these guys were still able to engage as a band. They even has some fun, as background chatter on some of these home recordings suggests. Here’s the Esher Demo of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. While it’s clearly not my favorite Beatles tune, does this sound to you like a band in distress?

The Electric Ladyland Deluxe 50th Anniversary Box Set comes in two formats: 3-CD/one Blu-ray or 6-LP/one Blue-ray. It features a newly remastered Electric Ladyland album; Electric Ladyland: The Early Takes (unreleased demos); Live At The Hollywood Bowl 9/14/68 (unreleased concert); the previously released documentary about the making of the album At Last … The Beginning with 40 minutes of new footage; 5.1 surround sound mix of Electric Ladyland album; Linda McCartney’s original cover photo as chosen by Jimi Hendrix but rejected by the record company; a 48-page book featuring unpublished photos; and new essays by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Hendrix biographer John McDermott.

Electric Ladyland Box Set

CD mastering and the 5.1 surround sound mix were done by Eddie Kramer, sound engineer on all Hendrix albums released during his lifetime. Vinyl mastering was done by Bernie Grundman, who has mastered albums, such as Aja (Steely Dan), Thriller (Michael Jackson) and various Prince records.

Similar to Abbey Road, which couldn’t have been more different from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Electric Ladyland marked a significant change for Jimi Hendrix. Unlike the first two albums by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, where producer Chas Chandler tightly managed the recording process, Hendrix was fully in charge on Electric Ladyland. Recording sessions were no longer determined by Chandler’s tight organization and time management, but by Hendrix’s unconstrained perfectionism. Hendrix also repeatedly invited friends and guests to join him in the studio, such Brian Jones (still with The Rolling Stones at the time), Steve Winwood and Al Kooper. This created oftentimes chaotic recording conditions, which eventually led to Chandler to walk out on Hendrix.

Except for some tracks from the documentary At Last … The Beginning, currently, nothing else from the Electric Ladyland reissue is available on iTunes or Apple Music. I suspect it is similar for other digital or streaming platforms. That’s unfortunate and I assume done by design to encourage purchases of the actual box set. Probably for the same reason, I also couldn’t find any YouTube clips of songs from the reissue. The CD version currently sells for $42.39 on Amazon, while the vinyl configuration is going for $98.39. Here’s a fun clip of Eddie Kramer talking about Electric Ladyland and the new box set.

Sources: Wikipedia, Beatles website, Jimi Hendrix website, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Faces/Ooh La La

Yesterday, I went to my great go-to little store close to my house, which is selling used vinyl records and vintage stereo equipment. While I can easily get lost there, I usually leave with one or two vinyl records. This time I also stroke out on the equipment front, getting an ’80s Nakamichi tape deck. I know in the age of streaming all of that sounds pretty antiquated. But my old tape deck had given up years ago, and I still have hundreds of music cassettes, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s when I was taping music like a maniac. I could never throw them out, even though the quality of most of these MCs inevitably has diminished over the decades.

Anyway, while I guess you can sense that I’m a happy camper with my newly acquired gear – and Nakamichi isn’t exactly a shabby name – this blog isn’t about stereo equipment. So to bring it back to the actual subject, one of the vinyl records I got is Ooh La La by Faces. Not only is this album a lot of fun to listen to, but it’s also great to look at.

Faces_Ooh La La Cover Detail

While I had seen images of Ooh La La’s cover art before, I had not appreciated how cool this cover is until I held the album in my hands. You can actually move the eyes and the jaw of the face by pushing the top of the cover down (see image above). In order to do that you have to remove the record from the cover. The cover also has a gatefold showing a can-can dancer admired by the band’s members (see image below). Yes, the age of streaming undoubtedly has many advantages, but it’s also true that some of the experience when dealing with old-fashioned vinyl gets lost, such as enjoying a great record cover.

Faces_Ooh La La Foldout

Ooh La La was the fourth and final studio album by Faces, released in March 1973. To quickly recap, the band was founded by the remnants of Small FacesIan McLagan (keyboards), Ronnie Lane (bass guitar, vocals) and Kenney Jones (drums and percussion), as well as Rod Stewart (lead vocals) and Ronnie Wood (guitar), who joined from the Jeff Beck Group. By the time Faces went into the studio to record the album, Rod Stewart’s solo career already had been in full swing and he had become “too big” for the band.

The recording sessions for Ooh La La were impacted by Stewart’s rising commercial success and apparent lack of commitment to the band. According to Wikipedia, he pretty much behaved like a jack ass, trashing the record the moment it came out. He described it as a “stinky rotten album” to New Musical Express and “a bloody mess” to Melody Maker. He later told Rolling Stone the band would have been capable to do a better album. Never mind Stewart had a little help from his band mates on his first four solo albums that had come out by the time Ooh La La was released. It’s unfortunate what success and fame can do! Time for some music.

Here’s the album’s opener Silicone Grown, a nice rocker that was co-written by Stewart and Wood.

Cindy Incidentally, which has a pretty similar flair to the opener, is credited to Stewart, Wood and McLagan. The track was also released separately as a single and climbed all the way to no. 2 on the U.K. charts in 1973.

Another great rocker is My Fault. It’s credited to McLagan, Stewart and Wood. The two latter share lead vocals.

Glad And Sorry is one of the three tracks on the album, in which Stewart apparently had no role, neither a co-writer or as a vocalist. It is solely credited to Lane, who also shared vocals with Wood and McLagan. The tune has a softer sound that is mostly driven by piano and acoustic guitar, as well as harmony singing.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. The beautiful folk tune was co-written by Lane and Wood, featuring the latter on vocals. The track was also released as a single in the U.S. in May 1973. It didn’t chart at the time. Stewart would cover the tune on his 1998 solo album When We Were The New Boys, scoring a top 20 and 40 hit in the U.K. and U.S., respectively. Stewart recorded the song as a tribute to Lane who had passed away in June the prior year at the age of 51.

Ooh La La was produced by Glyn Johns, a producer and recording engineer, who at the time already had worked with artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. His experience working with the latter during a time of high inner tensions would come in handy for holding Faces together for their final studio record. BTW, the “stinky rotten album” ended up topping the U.K. charts and climbing to no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Carole King/One (2018)

Here’s a clip from one of my all-time favorite artists, Carole King. Thanks to my older sister, who had the Tapestry album on vinyl, Carole was one of my first “discoveries” when I started listening to music as a 10-year-old or so. At the time, I didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t even understand any of her lyrics, which of course are essential to fully appreciate Tapestry. Even without grasping the lyrics, I was immediately drawn to the powerful and beautiful way Carole performs her songs. As the recently released above clip shows, she still has that magic passion to this day!

One is a tune Carole originally wrote and released in 1977 as part of her 9th solo album Simple Things. Worried about the current situation in the country, she was inspired to rewrite some of the lyrics. ” I kept thinking about the song “One” for which I had written both music and lyrics in 1977,” Carole noted. “It’s a song about wondering what we can do when we see injustice, and it expresses my long held belief that we – all of us humans – are most effective when we come together as “One” and stand up for our values such as dignity, inclusivity, equality of opportunity, and caring for our most vulnerable neighbors.” Eloquently said!

Part of what attracted me to the U.S. when I decided to live in this country more than 20 years ago were the above values. I also liked the idea of the melting pot and that if you were willing to work hard, the sky was the limit and it didn’t matter much where you came from and what accent you spoke. I realize this an idealistic view. I also understand that as a white guy, I easily fit in at least visually speaking. If my skin color were different, my experience may have been different. Unfortunately, racism and prejudice exist in all societies, and New York is hardly representative of America. But even with all these caveats, this country today feels very different than what I encountered 20-plus years ago.

I hope at the end of the day, despite the deep political division, people realize we’re all in this together. Each of us can play a constructive role. It starts with our everyday behavior. Stop aggressive driving. If you see somebody wants to enter a busy street, let them in. Hold the door for other people, even if you are in a rush to get to work in the morning. If you see an elderly person who has trouble moving wanting to cross the street, help them. This isn’t fucking rocket science. We can do this.

Here are the updated lyrics:

Poetic phrases come to mind
Whenever I find injustice being done
And I wonder, what am I gonna do
What am I gonna do

What can one do except be one
Talking to two, touching three, growing to four million
Each of us is one
All of us are one

Open your heart and let the love come shining through
And you will do what you need to do
To know just where the other you is coming from
We are one

It just amazes me that I can be
Part of the energy it takes to serve each other
And I wonder, what am I gonna do
What am I gonna do

What will we do
We’re gonna run
Reach for the sun
Come together as one
Show ‘em how it’s done
At the end of the day we’ll be able to say
Love won. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Facebook