Toto and Michael McDonald, August 29, 2014: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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At the Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago: I thought about not getting tickets to see Toto and Michael McDonald at Ravinia. I have seen both acts more than a half dozen times each, just returned from a long vacation and am not a fan of the wine and cheese Ravinia crowd.

Luckily, I reconsidered and was able to grab a ticket. From start to finish, Toto and Michael McDonald meet and more often exceeded my lofty expectations.

Let me get the negatives out of the way first. The Ravinia Festival crowd is old, probably older than the average age of the two artists they saw. They rarely stand, and often are more interested in their cell phones than the music. Another negative is the 10 p.m. curfew. That meant both Toto and Mike McDonald for the most part went efficiently about their business with limited chats to the audience and few extended solos.

That said, Toto was a different band than the group I saw twice for the Falling In Between tour. Joseph Williams was particularly enthusiastic, trying his best to whip the geriatric crowd up. He also consistently delivered spot-on vocals, showing why he was invited back to the dance with Toto. But Williams was not the only one who inspired. David Paich commanded the prog-rock classic “Hydra,” with his dramatic vocal and mastery of the piano. Steve Porcaro’s synth accents on “Hydra,” “Pamela” and “Africa” were also notable.

The addition of both Porcaro and founding bassist David Hungate since I’d last seen Toto also added a freshness to the songs, while showcasing their incredible chops. Hungate provided a needed kick to “Pamela,” a track the ailing Mike Porcaro originally played on. Additionally, he held down the bottom on the song “99” with an authority previously missing over the last few tours. Touring replacement Shannon Forrest provided grooves more like the original Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro than longtime successor Simon Phillips. His take on “Georgy Porgy” was outstandingly funky.

Meanwhile, guitarist Steve Lukather continues to amaze on his instrument, with jaw dropping solos and runs. Luke also proved his meddle on vocals with a perfect vocal duet on “I’ll Be Over You” with walk-on guest singer Michael McDonald. Unfortunately, in an hour and fifteen minutes, Toto could only fit in so many hits. I hoped for “St. George and the Dragon” or “Stop Lovin’ You,” but their absence did not distract from a band which seems to get better and better with age.

Next was McDonald, who acknowledged that Toto had an excellent set — and that his band had some work to do. Clearly, with the first notes of the Doobie Brothers track “Here To Love You,” he and his band were inspired. McDonald packed in most of his hits, such as “Sweet Freedom,” “Keep Forgettin’” and “Minute By Minute,” along with deeps cuts such as “Obsession Blues,” “Ain’t No Love” and “This Is It” — a track that hit in 1979 for co-writter Kenny Loggins.

McDonald’s band — featuring long-time guitarist Bernie Chiairavalle, drummer Dan Needham, bassist Tommy Sims and Hammond B-3 player Pat Colli — smoked behind McDonald’s piano playing. The addition of tenor sax ringer Brandon Fields and vocalist Drea Rhenee added both passion and precision.

Lukather and Paich then contributed to the encore, starting with the Tommy Sims-led version of his song “Change The World,” a song written for Eric Clapton. By the time the group whipped through a Motown medley and the Doobie Brothers classic “Takin’ It To The Streets,” most of the Ravinia fans — thankfully — were out of their walkers and on their feet.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at
Preston Frazier
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