Count Steve Lukather among those who couldn’t have guessed how fast Toto’s new concert souvenir 35th Anniversary Tour: Live In Poland would charge out of the gate. The project, in fact, debuted atop the charts in the U.S., Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, and started just one back at No. 2 in the UK, Canada and France.
“What’s really been astounding to me is how it’s been received, and how it’s doing,” Lukather marvels, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “Like, in the UK, we haven’t charted there in 30 years — and it enters at No. 2. How or why, I don’t understand. We’re No. 1 all over Europe — including Germany, which is like the second biggest market in the world. It was Top 5 in Japan. There’s buzz on this, seemingly out of nowhere.”
That buzz arrived as Toto concluded its first string of dates with new drummer Keith Carlock through Japan, continued work on a brand-new studio album — their first since 2006’s Falling In Between — and prepared for summer dates alongside Michael McDonald.
35th Anniversary Tour: Live In Poland offers its share of Toto favorites, but is perhaps more notable for the band’s inclusion of some rare and exciting deep cuts — not to mention a new instrumental from fellow band co-founder David Paich. We asked Lukather to go off the beaten path with us, exploring some of these lesser-known tracks from Toto’s June 2013 concert at Lodz, Poland …
“ST. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON,” (HYDRA, 1979): A companion piece with this album’s lead-off title track, Paich’s “St. George” finds Toto making one of its earliest forays into progressive rock — with a medieval-themed title to boot. As such, it works as a bold counter-argument for anyone who still thinks as Toto as nothing more than purveyors of sweetly approachable pop songs. In fact, elements of this kind of melodic, throwback prog rock have shown up through their discography, and will play a role in Toto’s forthcoming new studio effort, as well.
STEVE LUKATHER: I figured, if we were going to do “Hydra,” let’s do the two together — because they’re kind of like bookends. And we hadn’t done it in so long, but it turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. We didn’t want to just put out another DVD with the hit songs on it. Of course, there’s certain songs you’ve gotta put on there. And there’s certain songs, if I never played them again, that would be OK too — but they bought my house. [Laughs.] I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds. We’re still exploring that kind of ’70s, less fusion-y type of prog. We did it with Falling in Between. There’s also a new song called “Great Expectations” that David, Joe and myself wrote. Some of it was pieces that were from long ago that we’ve put together into a new epic song. It’s melodic, and has a lot of different changes in it, but it’s not math music, if you know what I mean. It’s part of our early Yes-type influences, things like that — or Genesis, that sort of prog, rather than the later, Return to Forever/Mahavishnu prog. We’ve always had those roots, but we’d write pop songs, and the record companies would put those out. And so we got that label.
“IT’S A FEELING,” (TOTO IV, 1982): A multi-Grammy award-winning smash, IV will forever be associated with its trio of Top 10 hits — all of which are found on 35th Anniversary Tour: Live In Poland, as well. But it was the inclusion of this perhaps-forgotten, sleekly ruminative nugget, composed by keyboardist Steve Porcaro and originally positioned as the finale of Side One, that likely turned the most heads. In the concert video, frontman Joseph Williams handles all of the vocals, though in more recent shows, Porcaro has taken a turn on the mic himself.
STEVE LUKATHER: This last run, we got Steve Porcaro to sing the second verse. The fans went crazy; they loved it. He’s never sung on stage, the entire career — ever. That was his first time. I just said: “More of that shit! C’mon, bro!” It was fantastic. I loved it. I think on the next tour, we might dig out “Takin’ It Back” [another Porcaro original, taken from Toto’s 1978 eponymous debut] or something like that. [Stream it!: “Takin’ It Back.”] He’s been a member of the band for so long. I want to really feature him. People come back if they know they’re not going to see the same show, every year. If you do that, after a while people go: I’ve seen it.
“GOIN’ HOME,” (TOTO XX, 1998): An archival recording dating back to 1989, “Goin’ Home” finally saw release nearly a decade later as part of an anniversary project collecting rare and intriguing leftovers from throughout Toto’s then-20 year old career. Co-written by Paich, Williams and the late Jeff Porcaro, it originally featured departed original frontman Bobby Kimball — though Williams later issued his own version in 1997, and utterly reclaims the song in concerts like the one in Poland.
STEVE LUKATHER: You know, Joe co-wrote that, in the irony of it all. So, there is a reason why we are doing it at this time. I really like the song, but the record company president at the time hated it. Well, it turns out, he hated us. That’s the same guy that kept us from putting out our records for 10 years. He purposely went out of his way to sabotage our career, and wouldn’t let us off the label. We were still selling records and selling out arenas everywhere else in the world, but he killed us in the U.S. And we had weak managers who wouldn’t get out of the deal; they didn’t know what they were doing. We were just in this limbo in the U.S., and it really hurt us. We lost 10 years, in a crucial time in our career. It was willful, and done for reasons unknown. We never had any arguments with this guy. He just didn’t like us. Before the [1990-era frontman Jean-Michel] Byron experiment and Kingdom of Desire, we thought let’s give Kimball another shot and we got that out of him. He played it for the record company, thinking we had a hit there. And the guy said: “No, this ain’t it. I hate it.” They wanted us to use this guy Byron.
“99,” (HYDRA, 1978): Of course, this can’t be considered any kind of deep cut — not after going Top 30 in 1978. But Lukather completely reworks the song during the Poland show, adding an intricately involving acoustic guitar, before segueing into a duet on the previously unheard Paich composition called “The Muse.” Along the way, Toto has not only encouraged their fans to hear a familiar hit in a whole new way, they’ve showcased the intriguing musical complexity that’s also been at play underneath their pop-chart prowess.
STEVE LUKATHER: Dave had a solo piano piece that he was going to play, and I said: Why don’t I play that with you? This is great. It’s a beautiful melody. Let me get into that. And, over the rehearsals and the first couple of shows, it kind of morphed into what ended up on the DVD, rather organically. Of course, there’s a rumor that I hated “99,” and I think I may have said that 25 years ago, or something. The lyric is kind of silly, but people dig the song. I’m at the age now where I want people to hear the songs they want to hear. But if we’re going to do this, let’s do a different take on it. I love to play acoustic guitar, and I don’t get to do it that much — particularly gut string. When we do some of these old songs, it’s fun to do a different take on them.
“WINGS OF TIME,” (KINGDOM OF DESIRE, 1992): After the brief, unhappy tenure of the South African-born Byron, Toto had to regroup. They had gone through a series of frontmen over the previous eight years following Kimball’s departure, including the late Fergie Frederiksen (1984-85) and the now-returned Williams (1986-89). Lukather said part of the group’s reconstruction involved going back to basics, with Lukather taking over lead vocals in place of another potential outsider. Jeff Porcaro, however, would die tragically not long after these sessions. “Wings of Time” has become a tribute to Jeff and to his sibling bassist Mike Porcaro, who has left the road while battling ALS.
STEVE LUKATHER: It’s bittersweet. It’s one of my favorites, because it was just the four of us. We were sort of lost, and didn’t know what to do after the South African experiment gone wrong. I wanted to be in a rock band again. Jeff and I talked extensively about this. And we wrote the whole album as a band in the rehearsal room. So that was the first, and the last time, that ever really happened. It was Jeff’s last record, so it will always have a special place in my heart, as well. Those are hard memories, sometimes. But I love those songs — and that song in particular. Jeff wrote the lyric, and it’s kind of eerie, almost prophetic, though we didn’t realize that at the time. We dedicate that to Mike and Jeff every night, because it gives us a chance to all be together again, and it allows me to play the blues a little bit. Certainly, not in the B.B. King, traditional sense, but I just kind of let myself go. You play how you feel, and sometimes if you feel angry or upset, that comes out — and on that particular take [in Poland], that’s what happened. There’s a few cats missing on the stage.