The Grammy-winning rock group Toto, whose mega-hit songs in the 1980s helped them sell 35 million records worldwide, have just returned from a European tour. Their first show back in the United States, and one of only two California stops on their current world tour, took place Thursday at the Chumash Casino Resort.
The resort includes a Las Vegas-style casino, allowed only in California, on autonomous tribal reservations, such as the Chumash lands in Santa Ynez. The resort offers a wide variety of live music shows, including some of the biggest names in pop music, in its Samala Showroom. Click here for information about upcoming shows.
The venue offers a great concert experience, with reserved seating capped at 1,400 people or fewer. Many of the shows, like Toto, where music fans are in a mood to get up and dance have less capacity seating and added space at the front of the stage. About halfway through the show the aisles were opened to the front, and fanatic fans of the band rushed forward for a chance to dance up close and personal with the musical icons onstage.
The venue also offers spectacular lighting, awesome acoustics and two giant, high-definition video screens. The screens may be a bit of overkill for such a small venue, but were greatly appreciated by those in the audience with fading vision. The professional camera operators did a great job of capturing the action onstage from several angles, adding another layer of excitement to the intimate gathering.
Waitresses handed out free bottled water to those waiting patiently in their seats for the start of the show. Alcohol is allowed only in the restaurant at the resort, making for a more sober and polite crowd than at most venues.
The band arrived onstage just after 8 p.m., right on schedule, and proceeded to play a 100-minute, high-energy set showcasing their immense talents as musicians. The unofficial emcee of the night was master guitar player Steve Lukather — or LUUUC! as his most avid fans like to call out to him.
For the uninitiated in the crowd, it almost sounds like people are booing the band, but the feisty guitar player made it clear that it was taken as a sign of affection. The guitarist, one of three original members still touring with the band, would offer humorous banter and anecdotes before many of the songs. He told one story of recording a song with legendary Motown producer Berry Gordy, while a young black kid sat in the corner and kept repeating in a high-pitched voice, “That’s a really funky beat,” while they were recording.
The not-so-veiled Michael Jackson reference was appropriate because the former pop star’s Neverland ranch is just a few miles from the resort, but also because the brilliant songmeisters of Toto blended a mix of rock, soul, jazz, blues and a good deal of funk to create their sound. While their massive hit anthems played as soft rock over the radio for decades, their live shows have always been punctuated by breakout jams full of innovative funky, bluesy and jazzy beats.
Those musical skills were showcased brilliantly in the Thursday night show. The other two original members of the band, David Paich and Steve Porcaro, work as bookend keyboardists and backup singers, creating intricate harmonies. Steve is the only remaining Porcaro brother still in the band. His brother, Jeff Porcaro, the original drummer, died in 1991 and was replaced by current drummer Simon Phillips.
This master English percussionist has a résumé few could match in the rock world. In addition to his work with Toto the last few decades, he toured as the drummer for The Who on their 1989 American tour and worked with Tears for Fears on their smash-hit album Seeds of Love. He has also collaborated with countless rock stars from Brian Eno to Jeff Beck and Judas Priest.
He played mostly with his head down on his massive drum kit, belting out a steady rhythm like a master drummer in a heavy metal band. Porcaro’s other brother, the band’s original bassist, Mike, can no longer tour with the band because of a battle with the degenerative Lou Gehrig’s disease. He has been replaced by veteran bassist Nathan East. This master musician comes from a jazz background, and his funky style meshes perfectly with the band, especially when they break into improvised jams. East also has an incredible résumé, playing with musical legends as diverse as Eric Clapton and Herbie Hancock.
Joseph Williams, son of film composer John Williams, has been the lead singer with the band on and off since he appeared on a pair of Toto albums in the late 1980s. This soulful singer also has had an illustrious and productive musical career.
Rounding out the band were backup singers Mabvuto Carpenter and the soulful diva Jenny Douglas-McRae. There was so much musical talent performing on the stage it was sometimes hard to take it all in. When the various musicians would break into a solo or a smaller group jam, it was easier to follow their masterful playing. At one point the guitar, bass player and drummer broke into a trio jam saluting the best of the ‘60s jam band sounds.
But when the band played as a whole, it was a magical mutlilayered crescendo of sound that enveloped the packed house at the Samala and had many literally dancing the night away in the aisles.
With tickets for concerts starting at just $25, many music fans felt they could afford to stroll through the casino after the show and play a few games of chance. Perhaps this is why the venue can offer such world-class entertainment at such bargain prices.
What a fun place to see a concert. Rock on, Chumash Casino Resort!