Yes & Toto

September 6, 2015
Greek Theatre
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Alex Kluft*

When the story first broke that Yes and Toto would be touring together in 2015, confusion and mixed feelings spilled over the blogosphere like a hornet’s nest oozing with lava. How could a pop rock band like Toto stack up next to a progressive rock band like Yes? As the tour wound down, the reviews were mostly favorable. After all, the players in Toto are every bit as schooled and seasoned as the guys in Yes, even if the material tends to be more radio-friendly and accessible. Then again, Toto XIV, their 2015 studio release, is a little deeper, a little heavier, a little — wait for it — proggier.

For Yes, there were other challenges to overcome — namely the passing of their lone founding member, bassist Chris Squire. The announcement first came that he was sitting out the tour for health reasons; no one had any idea he wouldn’t be returning. Whenever Yes has lost a member, the show has gone on (aside from a couple years in the early 80s). Losing Squire was a different story, but the show has gone on anyway.

Walking into the Greek, I didn’t know what to expect. Would Yes fans appreciate Toto? Would Toto fans get into Yes? Toto definitely had the home court advantage at the Greek, and when they hit the stage after a brief 20-minute set from singer and songwriter Patrick Sieben, they weren’t afraid to express the love they have for Los Angeles. From a Yes fan’s perspective, it could be said that Toto play pop-flavored tunes with world-class musicianship. Tonight, it was that and more.

What was most inspiring about Toto’s performance was the inclusion of four songs from Toto XIV. It’s rare these days for a band like this to roll out new music. Apparently, Toto didn’t get the memo because they opened with the album’s first cut, “Running Out Of Time,” a brave and very “progressive” move in an age where most audience members are only keen to hear old hits and favorites. It’s a punchy tune, in line with what a strong opening song should be. I saw shoulders shrugging, but I also saw toes tapping, hands clapping and general excitement. Toto was home where they are so beloved and well-respected, they can pretty much get away with treading into unfamiliar territory, and leave the crowd gasping for more. The other new ones — “Holy War,” “Great Expectations” and especially the catchy “Orphan” — went over equally well.

Having a solid collective of musicians certainly helps. In addition to the core members of guitarist Steve Lukather, keyboardist David Paich, keyboardist Steve Porcaro, lead singer Joseph Williams (Lukather and Paich also sing lead vocals on some songs), and bassist David Hungate, the band was joined by new drummer Shannon Forrest, back-up vocalists Mabvuto Carpenter and Jenny Douglas-Foote, and percussionist Lenny Castro. Even as the newer material got deeper, things got brighter when the hits came out. The second song of the night happened to be Toto’s second single from 1979, the lilting “I’ll Supply The Love.” The brooding yet bouncy title track from the band’s second album, Hydra, settled in like suavely as Paich steered the verses. Of course, “Hold The Line” had them dancing in the aisles and up and down the stairways.

Renegade rocker Lukather and top-hatted Paich took the spotlight for most of the solos and banter; they also paid tributes to two former members — drummer Jeff Porcaro (passed away in 1992) and his brother bassist Mike Porcaro (past away in March 2015 after a long illness). Lukather had his tech running around with the cable as he played one stinging lead after another, at one point diving into Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” to get all the guitar freaks in the crowd excited. They ended the night with two of their biggest hits — the Grammy-winning “Rosanna” and the Number One “Africa,” which was extended on the main riff and turned into a joyous, everyone-on-their feet celebration. It was a stupendous finale, and after 90 minutes of non-stop music, you would have thought it was Toto’s show. I was surprised to see some people leave before Yes came out, but the Toto diehards definitely got their money’s worth tonight.

It’s too bad because they missed a heartfelt and loving tribute to Chris Squire. All eyes fell on a propped-up bass under a lone spotlight, as the straining notes of “Onward” from 1978’s Tormato played over video and photo snippets of Squire projected on the Greek’s screens and backdrop. The final slide finished with ‘Chris Squire 1948 – 2015’ and then the soundtrack switched over to Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” Without a word, the members of Yes strolled out, took their places, and eased slowly into “Don't Kill The Whale.”

If you follow Yes with any regularity, it was with little difficulty to realize the bark and bite of Squire’s bass lines were not in the mix. However, Billy Sherwood, who was briefly a member of Yes in the 90s, and has gone on to record and produce dozens of records, many with Squire, had the right approach, tenderizing and tackling each note with precision and care. It’s difficult to say if he has a future with Yes, or, for that matter, if Yes as a band has a future after Cruise To The Edge in November. At this point, it’s best, as singer Jon Davison mentioned, to celebrate the life of Chris Squire as another chapter closes in the band's storied career.

A blast through “Tempus Fugit,” driven by one of Squire’s signature bass riffs, certainly put Sherwood through the ringer, and he handled it with grace and assurance. They followed with their unique arrangement of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” which gave guitarist Steve Howe a little room to stretch out, while Davison and Sherwood harmonized on the chorus. Once again, even though Squire’s vocals were noticeably absent, Sherwood was there to aptly fill in. Howe also got in his chops playing pedal steel on “Going For The One,” a song that never gets old.

Unlike Toto, Yes didn’t include any of the songs from their last album, 2014’s Heaven & Earth, in their setlist. After “A Time And A Word,” they stuck to the tried and true — “I've Seen All Good People,” “Siberian Khatru,” “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and “Roundabout.” The night was topped off by a splendid encore of “Starship Trooper,” which got the band chugging away with Downes out in front, rocking his white keytar, Steve Howe switching back and forth between two guitars at different intervals, and drummer Alan White and Sherwood anchored down for the duration. As a longtime Yes fan, it’s difficult for one to peg Davison without thinking about Jon Anderson. As it is, Davison fits the part, captures the spirit of Anderson in his appearance and mannerisms; his passion for the music is earnest, authentic.

Sherwood nailed down the middle bass section of “Starship Trooper,” allowing Howe and Downes to solo without concern. Keeping the show going, Sherwood was the MVP of the night, coming through for Yes and his friend Chris Squire to make the much anticipated tour with Toto a reality. As they waved good bye, I wondered if tonight was the last Yes show I'd ever see. In this day and age, it’s hard to say what’s next for them or Toto. Still, I suspect neither is quite finished yet.

*Band photos were taken at Pala Casino the night before.

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