Michael McDonald and Toto - Hard Rock Live, Hollywood - August 20
Chances are, when you heard that Michael McDonald and Toto were coheadlining the stage at Hard Rock Live last night, you didn't wet yourself with anticipation. Of course, if you're on the older end of the geriatric spectrum, then perhaps you did wee a little.
Unlike you, I was very excited to hear Michael McDonald singing in the same space as myself. There's room for argument here, but I'd say no singer in the history of music is more fun to imitate than this guy. He's just so very Michael McDonald. And you'd definitely be lying if you said his distinctive baritone never gave you chills, not ever, not once.
But most of the crowd at Hard Rock last night was out to see Toto, which performed first. Either that or the night got a little late and folks needed their rest. The crowd was significantly not young. I thought at least a handful of hip young androgynous kids would have ironically turned out dressed normcore to the max, but I didn't see a single one. It's totally possible that Michael McDonald x "Africa" is still just not that uncool enough to be millennially acceptable yet.
Growing up in the '80s, this kind of soft rock always gave me the bad shivers. It was the stuff parents listened to even then. And blue-eyed soul is usually pretty unimpressive. But over the years, I've grown to truly appreciate McD. He effortlessly sings and plays jams on the keyboard that you can't help but feel like grooving to. He even made the sound of the sax -- an instrument hard not to feel weird about in pop music -- sit just right in each of his songs.
As he sat there making jokes about the "middle-aged ugliness" onstage and introduced each band member with either a mention of times they'd worked together or by listing where the dudes were born and where they lived, it was clear, McDonald's just kind of a chill guy.
And when he sings, you get that old Michael McDonald feeling. He actually does have a really soulful delivery, mixing in gospel, jazz, and blues elements with straight-up soft rock. And though it's sort of a dated sound, it almost (almost) transcends its time, riding the line between '80s and classic.
He first hit the stage to great applause, joining Toto for "I'll Be Over You," which they originally recorded together. And he was down to take a back seat to this very excitable and large group of performers.
Toto was all energy. Lead singer Joseph Williams spent the whole time onstage sensually prancing around and wagging his hips side to side. It was almost too much movement. Guitarist Steve Lukather's banter and skilled use of his instrument were the highlight of the set, making the whole extended, proggy pop jams not just listenable but enjoyable. Each song went from what would have been four minutes on the radio to closer to 15 minutes onstage, the best parts being Luke's solos. His best joke included calling out the drummer as being the only person to "see Taylor Swift naked." He also referred to himself as a "rather desperate" single guy.
And the crowd was yelling, some because they were kinda deaf and talking about each song with the person sitting next to them, and others because they wanted to screech things at the band. So there were random screams throughout the set. Toto closed out with its two finest, "Africa" and "Hold the Line," and at that point, the whole room was clapping and on its feet.
Everyone was back sitting down when McDonald started singing the hits, seated in the middle of the stage. His size and presence and stark white hair made him the focus of attention. But he shared the stage and the mic with a few others, including an impressive female backup vocalist and Tommy Sims, with whom he's worked a lot over the years.
McDonald closed out his main set with the words, "Maybe next year, we'll see you in a more peaceful world!" Wonderfully put. The encore included Toto helping to sing Eric Clapton's "Change the World," which was written in part by Sims. They then covered some Stevie Wonder, "You Haven't Done Nothin'" and "Superstition," closing out with the Doobie Brothers' "Takin' It to the Streets." And then, we, as a hobbling group, rejuvenated by the McDonald soul, took it, well, to the streets.