Twilight of the Rock Gods?– Not so Much if you ask Toto

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It is an odd phenomena, but nonetheless true, that while the influence of rock n’ roll on its birthplace (the good ole USA) has certainly waned over the last two decades, and replaced on the charts by an odd mixture of rap, hip hop, countrifried pop, and the like, rock n’roll is alive and well in the Eurozone, including in Scandavia as well. Of the bands which I would call third or fourth wave rock n’roll bands, those which began in the mid to late 70s like Journey, Foreigner, and Toto for various reasons some of these bands have gained new life even in America and are still drawing huge crowds in places like Poland or Germany or Hungary. I remember vividly doing some sabbatical time in Tubingen in the late 90s and feeling like I had fallen into a time warp. The radio stations were all playing classic rock (none of which, or almost none of which was generated in Deutschland) and the college kids were wearing T-dyed T shirts and had long hair. It was rather ‘uber’ the top, to say the least.

In the case of the band Toto (which by the way was never named after Dorothy’s dog in The Wizard of Oz, but rather after the phrase ‘in toto’ meaning comprehensive, broad etc.), the band has gotten new life in the last several years in part because one of its Porcaro members was dying of ALS, and Jeff Porcaro had died already in the early 90s. The band put aside its differences and raised some money for ALS, but sadly another Porcaro also went to meet his Maker, leaving only one of the three brothers still in the band. Toto in the first place was made up of some high school friends from the San Fernando valley– David Paich, the Porcaros, Steve Lukather, and Joseph Williams (son of the famous film composer John Williams). This is still the core of the band, and when I was fortunate enough to see them in 2013 in Ohio, they were alive and well, and sounded as good as ever. You need not take my word for it. There is now a DVD of their concert done in 2013 in Poland, entitled 35th Anniversary Toto Live in Poland. Honestly it is one of the best, and best produced rock videos of the whole rock era, and includes the whole two and half hour concert which is just amazing. It gives old guys new hope when it comes to playing the music they love. Luke, who definitely feels the force still, is 58 years old. Far out man.

Various writers, even in Rolling Stone, have continued to warn about rock n’ roll’s approaching funeral, but besides the fact that there are lots of good new rock bands (ranging from Train (semi-new) at the pop end of things to Blackberry Smoke to Rival Sons etc.), there are still bands like Toto in top form, and unlike Journey or say Yes or Foreigner, they have not had to replace their lead singers with fresh blood. Toto of course has had a couple of dozen hits along the way, including of course Rosanna and Africa from their platinum album Toto IV, but I’m here to tell you that Toto XIV, their latest offering is awesomely good and shows their full spectrum or range of types of songs from blues rock to synth rock, to prog rock, to symphonic rock, to just plain rock. They are certainly one of the most versatile bands of the whole era, and more approachable than many, in that they could write great ballads as well as anyone. There are many super songs on the new CD, but I would especially commend on the rock side of things Fortune, 21rst Century Blues, and Orphan, and on the ballad side of things All the Tears that Shine and the only Porcaro song on the lp the very touching ‘The Little Things’. Part of what has energized the band is the return of Joseph Williams to lead vocals, and honestly he sounds as good or better than he did even in the 80s. Of course, Toto XIV is supposed to be listened to ‘as an album’! The download era hardly knows what albums are all about, which is the cumulative effect of a whole series of songs leading to a climax, which in this case is the song Great Expectations. Don’t buy individual songs, just buy the whole CD! It really is that good, and it is rejuvenating to realize that the proclaimed demise of rock n’ roll is premature. Just ask Toto.