LYNN — The band Toto has three sensational songs: “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” and “Africa.” Especially, “Africa.”
It’s fair to say that the majority of Toto fans who attended the band’s sold-out show at Lynn Auditorium Saturday night came to hear those three songs, all top-5 Billboard hits. This concert closed out the band’s triumphant “40 Trips Around the Sun” 40th anniversary tour, which began July 30 and criss-crossed the United States.
“This is a great, great crowd. This is how you want to end a long tour,” said co-founder/guitar hero Steve Lukather, to loud cheers. The audience was an unexpected mix of old and young; many millennials joining AARP-agers in grooving to the music.
Toto, these days, is a sterling eight-piece outfit, anchored by Lukather, co-founder/keyboardist Steve Porcaro and longtime vocalist Joseph Williams. Founding member David Paich, who had a hand in writing the aforementioned hits, opted to sit out this tour for health reasons. Taking his place was 26-year-old Dominque “Xavier” Taplin, a monster player. Percussionist Lenny Castro, drummer Shannon Forrest and bassist Shem von Schroeck provided the bedrock for each song; Warren Ham added color with backing vocals and bursts of sax, flute, and blues harmonica.
This is a killer band, featuring some impeccable playing. You’d expect that from musicians who got their start as session players/touring members for Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, and other giants in many genres. This was a made-for-arenas show, with first-rate lighting design, nestled comfortably in Lynn Auditorium’s relatively cozy 2,000-seat confines.
Fans didn’t have to wait long for “Hold the Line.” The tune from Toto’s 1978 debut album was the second song performed Saturday night and it was white hot. Audience members stood and sang along, while Lukather, looking every bit the rock star in black leather and fashionably torn jeans, reeled off a dandy guitar solo, as he did for nearly every one of the 21 songs performed.
“Rosanna” didn’t arrive until song number nine. It, too, was greeted with raucous cheers and rhythmic clapping by dancing/singing attendees.
It seemed like forever before “Africa” arrived, though. This fan grew impatient, as Toto revisited many stages of their career before “Africa” ended the main set some two hours after the first notes of “Alone” started the night.
To be fair, the audience boisterously and gleefully greeted every song with applause. There were stellar moments, to be sure. “I Will Remember,” a heartfelt song of friendship co-written by Lukather and Stan Lynch of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, hit the sweet spot. The improvisational instrumental “Jake to the Bone” was a crunching jazz-rock freakout.
A mid-set five-song acoustic storytellers segment, with the band seated at the front of the stage, featured truncated versions of “Georgy Porgy” and the Michael Jackson hit “Human Nature” (written by Porcaro and John Bettis). A hard-rocking song followed, then band introductions, then a long instrumental “Dune,” from the ’80s film of the same name.
“Please, mother of God, play ‘Africa’,” I muttered to myself.
Then came a cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” dedicated to “my friend George” by Lukather; it was an overlong guitar showcase. Williams, son of noted composer John Williams, delivered strong vocals all night and put the pop in a fine “Make Believe.”
And then it was time for “that song,” as Lukather phrased it. “Africa.” Finally. It was worth the wait. It wasn’t rains that came down from “Africa,” but cell phone light, as nearly everyone in the audience recorded the moment. The audience sing-along was the loudest I’ve ever heard at Lynn Auditorium. A percussion showcase by Castro and Forrest dragged on a bit, and the tune ended rather abruptly; a return to the “I bless the rains down in Africa” chorus, giving fans one more chance to cathartically scream the words, would have been welcome.
At the song’s conclusion, satisfied fans streamed to the exits. A cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” — Rivers Cuomo’s band has covered both “Africa” and “Rosanna” — was a cheeky end to the evening.