Toto & Michael McDonald Live in Oklahoma

Toto & Michael McDonald
First Counsel Hotel and Casino
Newkirk, Oklahoma
August 14, 2014

By Jeb Wright

Toto Setlist:
On the Run / Child's Anthem / Goodbye Elenore /Rosanna / Hydra / I'll Be Over You (with Michael McDonald) / Pamela / 99 / The Muse / White Sister / Georgy Porgy / Africa /Hold the Line

Michael McDonald Setlist:
Here to Love You /It Keeps You Runnin' / Sweet Freedom /I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near) / You Belong to Me / You Don't Know Me / Yah Mo B There / Minute by Minute / Ain't No Mountain High Enough / What a Fool Believes 

Change the World / You Haven’t Done Nothing/Superstition/ Takin' It to the Streets

In Newkirk, Oklahoma bands like Toto and Michael McDonald are not often high on the list of ‘must see’ groups.  Seems ‘round these parts it’s either hard rock or cowboy boots-and-beer music that brings out the masses.  So, it goes without saying the venue was less than capacity—much less, which in the case of the extremely talented band Toto is a damn shame, as this night’s opening act provided to be a very powerful band.  Conversely, the same could not be said for the main event, sadly.  During Michael McDonald’s set I did something I have not done in over 35 years of attending rock concerts: I fell asleep… more on that later.

Toto took the stage and the band immediately showed they were not only classy, jazz influenced musicians, but they could rock as well.  “On the Run” is a bit of an epic song and when enjoined with “Child’s Anthem and “Goodbye Elenore” it becomes an epic way to open the show.  Follow that medley up with one of the band’s most beloved tunes, “Rosanna” and you’re off to a helluva start.

The band played their big hits, including the set ending back-to-back smashes “Africa” and “Hold the Line.”  They also trotted out some fan favorites, none more appreciated than the kinda silly “Georgy Porgy.”  This tune had one fan on her feet making hand gestures to describe the lyrics as she sang along with every word; I guess I should have been watching Lukather, but…. 

Toto is impressive as a musical unit.  The band leader, at least on stage, appears to be founding member and lead guitarist Steve Lukather.  Luke not only plays breathtaking guitar solos, in Toto 2014 he sings lead vocals!  He does it well.  On “Roseanna” he holds his own nicely, and on “99” he kicks ass.  The latter tune was presented as an acoustic arrangement.  The alternate version worked well, and the crowd responded favorably.  It was Luke’s guitar prowess that stole the show and that is saying a lot when you have amazing talented guys named David Paich and Steve Porcaro on stage. 

Truth be told the entire band, down to the background singers, is an impressive lot.  The vocals in the band are breathtaking.  Joseph Williams Jr. can hit notes that make the hair on one’s arm stand at full attention.  His stage presence is impressive as well.  On bass during the evening was the man who played bass on the first four Toto albums: David Hungate.  His return to the band was a welcome surprise. 

Still, at the end of the night, Steve Lukather stole the show every time he took a solo.  Sorry for the upcoming F Bomb, but this M*th*rf***er is good, really good.  He should be in a heavy metal band the way he does hammer-ons, taps, arpeggios and flat-out burns through complicated scales both vertically and horizontally up and down his instruments neck. Mix that in with some band energy and class (David Paich’s donning a top hat behind the keyboards) and you’ve got a great show.  Oh, it was also cool that Michael McDonald slipped onstage to join Toto for “I’ll Be Over You.”

The band took the energy up a notch with the set-ending “Tow the Line.” Once again, Lukather slammed out a killer solo on a cool-ass looking MusicMan Luke III guitar that featured an artistic rendering of Sammy Davis Jr. on it.  The band was all smiles, delivering an error free set of complex music, not giving a damn that the house was less than packed; those who showed up responded by cheering loudly.

After a short break, ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald took the stage.  He sat down center stage, looking all cool with his silver fox full-head of hair and goatee.  His band was in fine form, tight as a tick as they opened with the Doobie Brother’s deep cut “Here to Love You.”  Next up came the first of the big hits in “It Keep’s you Runnin’.”  The band, again, was solid as a rock and McDonald played well and his instantly recognizable voice was there—at times.  I don’t know if it was a bad night, a head cold or if age is beginning to limit his abilities, but McDonald was less than perfect on this night.  He struggled at times and relied on his background singers to fill in the gaps. 

“I Keep Forgettin’” and “If This is It” sounded fine, but the vocals on “Minute by Minute” and “What a Fool Believes” were just not quite where they needed to be at times.  Again, the band is great, but there were some issues.  The show was pretty mundane, with the leader sitting behind a keyboard all night.  Sure, the music was well performed, but the songs are all pretty slow, and I am sorry to say that I actually nodded off…twice.  Not a good sign. 

Toto was so energetic that perhaps the appearance order should be reversed and McDonald should have been the opening act.  In fact, Toto made another appearance during the encore, which, not surprisingly was the best part of McDonald’s set. 

The encore began with a Grammy Award winning tune recorded by Eric Clapton but written by McDonald’s bassist, Tommy Sims.  This dude can sing, baby.  Sims delivered the song to a melting crowd as Toto with Michael McDonald and company jammed along.  Next up was a two song medley of Stevie Wonder tunes, “You Haven’t Done Nothing” and “Superstition.” 

The final tune of the night was predictably the Doobie classic “Takin’ It to the Streets.”  The first verse saw McDonald really struggling.  Every singer on stage ended up taking a lyric line and then they all sang the chorus.  Again, not sure what was going on vocally with the Doobie superstar, but it was noticeable audibly.  He was on key and in pitch, he just didn’t quite sound like himself, which he has taken to the bank for years!  When you’re Michael McDonald and you are less than one hundred percent, one notices… right, wrong or indifferent, fair or not, it’s just a truthful observation.

Lukather and company are a class act, and will always show deference to a major national act when it comes to ‘who is the headliner’, but at the end of the day, Toto was the better band delivering a stronger performance.