In the ever more crowded gigging season, a fresh trend over the last few years has been for London’s finest historic settings to be used for concerts. Following in the footsteps of Hampton Court and Greenwich is now a short concert series, ‘Live at Chelsea’, in the courtyard of the Royal Hospital, home of the famous Chelsea Pensioners.
While the residents may have been entertained by the Gipsy Kings and Tom Jones, the rock night of the four night run here might have been more challenging to a good night’s sleep!
The big draw for me was seeing one of the giants of AOR in Toto, not least having missed their Albert Hall show last year. However in a belated move presumably to boost ticket sales, the Darkness were added to the bill to make an unlikely musical combination. I must be one of the very few people in the centre of a Venn diagram of fans of both bands.
The move was however justified when a fair number of Darkness fans rushed to unregulated standing sections to the side of the stage, as they started with a mix of the old and new in ‘Giving Up’ and ‘Open Fire’. But on a couple of the singles that made them the sensation of 2003, ‘Growing On Me’ and the ballad ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’, Justin’s lead guitar solos were excellent and show how he is the Angus to the Malcolm figure of brother Dan, less flamboyantly but metronomically laying down a thick rhythm.
Indeed, after a rather ostentatious cowbell banging ceremony from bassist Frankie Poullain ‘One Way Ticket To Hell And Back’ was very AC/DC ish, with the exception of Justin’s love- them-or-loathe them falsettos, as was ‘Black Shuck’.
Sporting a white suit and personalised headband, Justin was his usual arch figure but his eccentric banter with the crowd began to pall and worst of all use up valuable time in a set constrained to 45 minutes. They closed with two more from the ‘Permission To Land’ album that will always be their landmark, in ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’, proving that there was no swearing ban in this prestige venue, and the ever enjoyable ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ as more of us rushed the standing area to join in.
Indeed for a better atmosphere than the temporary grandstand seating, I moved there again and stayed for Toto’s set, although space constraints made it difficult to see the whole of an enclosed stage. As they opened in obscure fashion with the recently released ‘Devil’s Tower’, David Paich was absent, continuing to recover from illness.
His young deputy, Dominique ‘Xavier’ Taplin who has played with Prince among others, was an exceptional keyboard player, combining effectively with Steve Porcaro’s synthesiser work, though it was still disappointing to see one of the two Toto mainstays absent.
The other, Steve Lukather, got his first chance to show his guitar prowess on a surprisingly early ‘Hold The Line’ but though delivered faithfully, it was a touch lacklustre. At this stage the sound was too quiet, as I discovered singing along too loudly to a pleasant surprise in ‘Lovers In The Night’, with some great solos by both Xavier and Steve L, but the sound did sort itself out.
Though a rather low-key frontman, Joseph Williams was excellent all night, singing numbers originally recorded by a variety of other vocalists without getting too far out of his vocal range, and shouldering more of the burden in David’s absence. He was helped though by my man of the match in sideman Warren Ham, an excellent singer in his own right and versatile multi instrumentalist. They left the way clear though for Steve L to sing ‘I Will Remember’ in typically smoky fashion.
‘English Eyes’ and later ‘Girl Goodbye’ were great examples of how, at their best, Toto’s blend of AOR tunesmithery and jaw dropping musicianship cannot be beaten. However, the patience of the more casual fan was tested not only by regular rain showers, but a challenging set list which admirably they regularly mix up, including new material such as ‘Alone’, and a long instrumental in ‘Jake To The Bone’.
Steve L almost acknowledged this in introducing ‘Rosanna’ which got the best reception yet, with a great synth solo, though even then they could not resist stringing the song out into a jam after the final chorus.
Repeating a format they used at the Albert Hall, an acoustic mid-section was a highlight, including an interesting treatment of ‘Georgy Porgy’ with Warren on flute, and later he played the blues harp on ‘No Love’, while Steve P – looking like a silicon valley entrepreneur on his day off – introduced ‘Human Nature’ which he wrote for Michael Jackson. There were also more familiar songs given this treatment in ‘I’ll Be Over You’ and ‘Stop Loving You’.
I was also delighted that my own favourite Toto album, ‘Isolation’ was featured for once in the shape of ‘Lion’ which turned into an impressive, almost funky jam. However the theme from ‘Dune’ was probably an instrumental showcase too far as we headed towards the final part of the gig.
When Steve dedicated a song to one of his guitar heroes I was worried we were going to get a Hendrix cover, but instead he played ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ in tribute to George Harrison. I wasn’t initially keen on the prospect but after Joseph got everyone to wave their phone lights as darkness fell in the courtyard, it created a great atmosphere.
After ‘Make Believe’, with a sax solo from Warren, showed the band at their super smooth best , Steve then said ‘Ok, lets play that song’. Now, ‘Africa’ seems to have joined ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ as an AOR classic that has taken on wider kitsch status for a new generation.
It was certainly the reason why there was a surprisingly number of party-hardy millennials present, sometimes to the irritation of many of us older and more serious fans. However, and despite the absence of its writer and co-vocalist, the sing-along atmosphere was joyful though a percussion-led jam took it to over ten minutes.
There was a single encore in one of their finest songs in ‘Home Of The Brave’ which unknown to me had apparently been dropped from recent sets. With Warren stepping in to share the vocals with Joseph, it was stirring, but I only realised after the event how appropriate the sentiment was in this place where those who served their country with such distinction spend their twilight years.
On a night when we were blessed by rains in SW6 and in an albeit special venue that had its shortcomings, this might not have been the very best Toto show I have witnessed, but their class still won the day.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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