|Dead End Drive In: Now Showing: Toto – ‘Live At Montreux 1991’ (Eagle Vision)|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Sunday, 18 September 2016 03:40|
There are some moments in musical folklore which are fondly remembered, but are often felt should be preserved in more than the cerebral cortexes of those present. This performance by Toto, at the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival exactly a quarter of a century ago, is just such a case a point, and thankfully it has now been brought to a wider audience, thanks to this resurrected showreel of the band’s stopover in Switzerland in the summer of 1991.
Despite nominally being called a “jazz” festival, Montreux has always pushed its boundaries and embraced multiple genres, and the early Nineties marked a period when it was at its most eclectically creative height, mainly thanks to the recruitment of Quincy Jones as curator. And it was a Jones’ personal invitation that Toto were to headline the first Friday night of the festival’s 19-night 25th anniversary run.
It was a performance which proved to be at a pivotal moment in Toto’s career. The band had recently stripped down to its bare essence, in the form of keyboardist David Paich, guitarist Steve Lukather (who had also stepped up to lead vocal duties – this being his first live performance in that role) and brothers Jeff and Mike Porcaro on drums and bass respectively. The band were in the throes of recording their eighth studio album, ‘Kingdom Of Desire’, their basic line up shoving the band in both heavier and more experimental directions. Exactly 13 months to the day, however, the 38-year old Jeff Porcaro took a fatal heart attack while out gardening: Montreux therefore proved to be one of his last live performances with the band, making this a moment of rarely-recorded history in its own right.
Bravely, for a festival set, Toto kick off with two new songs, both intended to appear on the abovementioned ‘Kingdom Of Desire’ album. Opener ‘On The Run’ ultimately didn’t make the final cut, with Lukather explaining years later that they “just didn’t get a take we liked” and Paich adding that it was “one of those tunes that feels better live for some reason”… Originally penned by Paich for keyboardist-turned-composer James Newton Howard as the instrumental ‘E Street Shuffle’ and rewritten at the suggestion of Jeff Porcaro (with lyrics by the one and only John ‘Fee’ Waybill), it definitely shows off the quartet’s severe musical creds and ability to rock out with the best of ‘em, especially in relation to Lukather’s shredding.
Lukather, seeming remarkably comfortable in his (then) new role as frontman, apologizes to the crowd for indulging in two new songs, but Montreux has always had the reputation for being a receptive audience, and they lap up the new album’s title track, which again displays the band’s desire to move in a heavier, more credible direction that reflected their desire to recreate, as Paich notes on the DVD’s liner, “that raw, sizzling energy we had in high school” and “bring it once again”.
Of course, the “big hits” are there. Extended versions of ‘Africa’, featuring a lovely percussion duel between Jeff Porcaro and session player Chris Trujillo, and ‘Rosanna’ bookend another new song, the instrumental jam ‘Jake To The Bone’, which lets everyone really flex their muscles, and a cover of ‘Red House’, dedicated to the then late Stevie Ray Vaughn, whose talent had been identified and nurtured by the Montreux team and who had passes away the previous year: it’s a nice touch, but a bit of a throwaway moment to be honest.
Interestingly, first encore ‘Hold The Line’ is omitted, jumping straight to the set’s stage-filled finale of Sly Stone’s ‘I Want To Take You Higher’, which sees Lukather invite out many of the artists who had performed earlier in the day for another lengthy jam, which also sees the guitarist go walkabout in the crowd.
The only complaint about this resurrected footage is the clear vintage of the camera work, with some of the angles being extremely ropey indeed – it would have been nice, for example, to have more focus on Jeff Porcaro and not so much on hired gun Trujillo. And, while they’ve also gone to great lengths to clean up the sound, they could also have done the same with the application of modern technology to some of the less clear shots. But, as it stands, ‘Live At Montreux 1991’ is one of those neat little snapshots in time, and a fine testament to a great bunch of musicians who, at the time, were perhaps on the verge of a creative renaissance, only for fate to intervene in her own inevitable manner.