If you were wondering if the new Yes tour with Toto was going to be a more somber experience than usual, there is no need to fear the unknown. Yes have found a way to memorialize their bass player Chris Squire, who passed away this past June from a form of leukemia, with class and respect. The screen comes on at the start of their headlining set and as “Onward” plays, photos of Squire pass by, finally settling upon a smiling portrait of the man who had played on every Yes album since they began their existence in 1968. It is a fitting tribute to a humble musician who spent his life bringing so much pleasure to millions of fans.
“It’s kind of a strange situation for all of us,” Geoff Downes told Glide a few weeks ago in an exclusive interview prior to starting the tour. “None of us has been in that position before.” Meaning, they have never really done a tour without Squire. “He not only had a passion about his music but for life in general,” Downes continued. “And I think that’s the one thing I’ll miss is getting up onstage and standing up there and not seeing his omnipresent figure there and knowing that he was giving it his all every night and that was very much what Chris was about. When he’d go on that stage, that was HIS stage, and I’m grateful I was able to share that with him.”
Standing in his spot is Billy Sherwood, who has worked with Yes before and was handpicked by Squire to handle bass duties during his absence on this 2015 world tour with Toto. Sherwood remained a steady figure onstage, never jockeying for more spotlight nor trying too hard to prove his own talent, a position not many would want to be in as almost 1500 set of eyes were bearing down upon him. He did quite nicely and the band’s set was an enjoyable one.
Fans were treated to such popular hits as “Roundabout,” “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” and “I’ve Seen All Good People,” in which Steve Howe encouraged everyone to “all sing along.” Playing his beautiful F-Hole Gibson for their rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” and “Going For The Word,” Howe more often than not kept his head down and concentrated on the chords he was relaying. Downes and vocalist Jon Davison were probably the most animated onstage. Davison all smilingly zen, swaying to the rhythm of the music, while Downes, turning around in small spins, pointing to the audience as well as bandmates, bopping his head, fingers in constant motion on one of the nine keyboards in his semi-circle of synth.
While Yes was a glorious ombre of psychedelic ambience, Toto spoke to the more hormonal components of the human body. If you were expecting ninety minutes of soft rock, they pleasingly disappointed you by rocking out. Steve Lukather, one of rock guitar’s unsung heroes, hasn’t lost his touch and has only become better with age. A spawn of 1977’s music scene in California, Toto hit big with their first outing, the self-titled 1978 album containing the Top 10 hit “Hold The Line” and repeating that success with “Rosanna” and “Africa” from 1982’s Toto IV. Joining other original members Lukather, piano player David Paich and keyboardist Steve Porcaro was bass player David Hungate, who played on the band’s first four albums before dropping off the touring ferris wheel. He only rejoined Toto last year and was a nice presence amongst his bandmates. Percussionist Lenny Castro added fire to the camp alongside drummer Shannon Williams, creating a symphony of rhythm that barely ceased throughout Toto’s set.
Dedicating “Great Expectations” to Squire and their own Mike Porcaro, who passed away in March from ALS, Paich played a lovely piano intro after the more jazzy style on “Pamela.” With Paich, Lukather and singer Joseph Williams all sharing lead vocals on various tunes, it gave the set an interesting mix of environments. Lukather handled “Without Your Love” and “I Won’t Hold You Back;” Paich crooned away on “Hydra” and “Africa;” and Williams belted out “Pamela” and “Holy War,” and “Hold The Line” with backup singer Jenny Douglas-Foote. And what would a Toto concert be without “Rosanna,” with it’s danceable hook and Porcaro’s signature keys, and “Africa” bringing the set to a percussive high crescendo.
But when it gets down to it, Lukather is still the jet engine, his guitar still hot. “A lot of guys just phone in a record. They just do it so they can get back out on the road and play the hits and make some money,” Lukather told me in a 2013 interview. “I’m still scratching the creative itch to try and bring my game up every time.” And bring it he did, on “Hydra,” “Great Expectations,” “On The Run” and a flammable solo on “Without Your Love.” As one fan said on his way out of the venue: “Toto is one hell of a band. I had no idea.”
And so it goes, as Yes and Toto make their way across America, both bands will give fans a few surprises here and there but overall the sum of it’s parts will make for one hell of a good time.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough