STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Toto founding keyboardist David Paich is backstage at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.
The audience doesn’t know it yet, but tonight the seven members of the band on the Toto 35th anniversary world tour will be taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. And it’s not just to be trendy — long-time bassist Mike Porcaro has the debilitating neurological disease, and in 2006 became unable to tour.
“We’re going to do it on stage after the last song, ‘Hold the Line’ — the whole band,” Paich said, mentioning the gold-selling single that began a run of 10 hits Toto placed on the Billboard top 40 chart between 1978 and 1988.
“We are such big supporters of this. From Steven Spielberg and Motley Crue to the President, just everybody is stepping up for the challenge,” he said, optimistic that a cure for ALS can be found.
One of the first videos that pops up at www.totoofficial.com is a performance of “Hold the Line” from the 35th anniversary tour recorded in Lodz, Poland. It’s performed as a duet between current lead singer Joseph Williams and vocalist Jenny Douglas.
“We’ve been doing that for a while because it’s so natural with a question-and-answer (lyrical flow),” said Paich, whose driving piano begins the song.
On the DVD of the concert — which also features hits like “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “I’ll be Over You,” “99” and their Grammy-winning smash “Rosanna” — the Polish audience is ecstatic from start to finish. Despite being decades removed from Soviet control, the way Paich described it, whenever Western rock and pop performers come to Poland, it’s like The Beatles arriving in New York in 1964.
Paich co-wrote, and sings lead vocal on, the signature hit “Africa,” which has been recently satirized on TV by Jimmy Fallon (in a sketch with Justin Timberlake) and “Family Guy.” “We always get a kick out of it,” he said, also mentioning a cameo by the band on an episode of “South Park.” “It lets everybody know Toto has a sense of humor.” Blending pop, progressive rock — and in the case of “Africa,” “romanticized, poetic world music” — the Los Angeles band has 17 albums in their catalog and worldwide sales topping 35 million. “It’s been a roller coaster. When you’ve been around 35 years, there’s ups and downs and fights,” Paich said, mentioning the hiatus Toto took from 2008-2010.
Like kindred spirits Steely Dan, the members of Toto started out as studio session musicians. Each member — past and present — carries an envious portfolio of behind the scenes credits. Among others, Paich has worked closely with Boz Scaggs, co-writing his ‘70s hits “Lido Shuffle” and “Lowdown.” Shortly after Toto took home several Grammy trophies in 1982, several members of the group took to the studio to record with Michael Jackson on the iconic “Thriller” album.
“Quincy Jones always loaded his deck. It’s like those Pro Bowl games,” Paich said, linking the legendary producer of “Thriller” with the NFL’s all-star game.
Paich described Jackson as a perfectionist, and yet, “he let you do whatever it is you wanted to do.”
Talking both about the “Thriller” sessions and Toto’s present-day performance ethic, he said: “The passion is in the perfection, but you still got to have fun because it is rock ‘n’ roll, and also R&B. You gotta let it rock ‘n’ roll and slosh around a little bit, but keep it on the rails. That’s one of the specialties the boys in Toto have.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Toto in concert.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 4.
WHERE: The Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
INFO: Call (215) 572-7650 or visit www.keswicktheatre.com.