By 1991, Toto was at a crossroads. Only four original members remained: guitarist/lead vocalist Steve Lukather, keyboardist/lead vocalist David Paich, drummer Jeff Porcaro, and bassist Mike Porcaro. They were in the midst of recording the album Kingdom of Desire, a harder-charging work featuring Lukather on all lead vocals. Sadly, shortly after completing the album, Jeff Porcaro unexpectedly passed away; his brother Mike would succumb to ALS in 2015. The new release Toto: Live at Montreux 1991, a new release in the DVD/CD, Blu-ray/CD, and digital video formats allows fans one more glimpse at the legendary lineup. While not well filmed, the energy and vibrancy of Toto’s performance more than compensates for the visual quality.
Playing to an adoring audience, Toto included both unfamiliar songs as well as favorite hits. They set the tone with “On the Run,” a track that ultimately failed to make the Kingdom of Desire album. Slinging his guitar and singing with full-throated authority, Lukather demonstrated his status as the band’s leader. His lengthy guitar solo works in tandem with Jeff Porcaro’s furious drumming, lending Toto a hard-rocking sound that may surprise fans who know them primarily through “Roseanna,” “Africa,” or “Georgy Porgy.” Clearly sensing that the crowd wanted to hear the hits, they followed up the song with the 1980s hit “I’ll be Over You.” Although missing Michael McDonald’s distinctive backing vocals, Lukather, Paich, and the backing singers easily capture the original recording’s smooth harmonies.
One of the highlights of Live at Montreux 1991 is “Africa,” a massive hit that endures. The audience bounces up and down to the beat, the percussion given an extended solo in this live rendition. Unfortunately, the vocals are buried too deep in the mix, but the gorgeous harmonies still shine through. Next, Toto treats the crowd to another new song: “Jake to the Bone,” an instrumental that allows each band member to exhibit their technical prowess. Paich executes a jazz-tinged keyboard solo while Lukather injects pure rock through his gutiar. The Porcaro brothers keep the song grounded, with Jeff working up a sweat during his intense playing. Songs like these illustrate why Jeff Porcaro is considered one of rock’s most skilled drummers.
The Montreux Jazz Festival always brings out the best in artists, as the atmosphere and audience encourages them to demonstrate their musical versatility. Toto is no exception, as they span genres from blues (“Red House”) to pop (“Roseanna”) to R&B (“I Want to Take You Higher”). It is difficult to pin down Toto’s exact sound, as they can conquer virtually any genre. For that reason, they became an in-demand studio group as well as a top-selling band. This fact is underscored with Quincy Jones’ presence at the gig; he personally invited them to perform and introduced them. After all, Jones had worked with them many times, most notably on Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
While the performance thrills, the show was not filmed properly. The viewer rarely catches a glimpse of Jeff Porcaro’s face, some angles are awkward, and the lighting is extremely dark. The footage is 25 years old, but some additional remastering for a clearer and brighter picture would have been beneficial. In addition, the sound mix leaves something to be desired; when Lukather speaks in between songs, one can barely understand him.
Despite the visual limitations, Toto: Live at Montreux 1991 is a must-own for any devoted fan of the band. It marks the last time Jeff Porcaro toured with the group, and captures a moment when four original members performed together. It also represents a turning point in the group, with Toto exploring a harder sound while still remming true to their pop and R&B roots. Toto remains one of music’s most versatile and technically proficient acts, and Live at Montreux serves as Exhibit A.