Review: Through the Looking Glass - DVD
Live In Amsterdam was filmed during Toto's 25th Anniversary tour of 2002/2003, and presents the band in their strongest element - live in concert. Toto are not nearly as popular in the United States as they are in Europe, where relatively unknown progressive-rock bands can hold legendary status. A band like Toto can sell out large venues in places like Paris and Amsterdam, but would be hard pressed to fill a medium sized club here in the U.S.
Most people would not consider Toto to be a progressive-rock band, but in concert their music comes alive with a raw intensity rarely seen on the studio albums. You can thank guitarist-extraordinaire Steve Lukather for that one, as his phenomenal shredding is as good as any guitarist in the business. Toto is only a small part of his resume, and they are not always the best vehicle for his heavier or "bluesier" stuff. He became a great session guitarist because he shapes his playing for the good of the song, and no style is beyond of his reach. This can be frustrating for Lukather fans, as his playing is often too restrained in order to fit the typical Toto formula. I have been more impressed with some of his many side projects, including Los Lobotomys, and his work on Derek Sherinian's solo albums.
Toto critics usually complain about the band being a little too polished and calculated. They were, after all, some of the best studio musicians in the business, before deciding to form Toto together. In concert, most of that polish gets stripped away, and they become a much looser and dynamic band. Legendary rock drummer Simon Philips took over for Jeff Porcaro after his death in 1991, and he has succeeded in adding a little more muscle and progressiveness to Toto's sound. He is also an outstanding producer, who produced and mixed this DVD, as well as a number of other rock and prog-rock albums, which he also performs on. His writing, playing, and production work on their last studio release, Mindfields, and companion live album, Livefields, are remarkable. These albums, along with this DVD, also feature the return of original Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball. His voice sounds better than ever, and he and Philips have breathed new life into a band that I had almost written off.
On this tour, many of the classic Toto tunes were combined into medleys, which I normally can't stand, but they injected enough improvisation and intesity to keep them exciting. The intromedley, featuring "Girl Goodbye", "Goodbye Elenore", "Child's Anthem", and "I'll Supply the Love", simply smoked, and was the concert highlight for me. It would have made a much better show closer. I would have much preferred to hear these particular songs in their full versions though, since they are four of my favorite Toto tunes.
After an upbeat version of "Gift With A Golden Gun", they went on to pay tribute to two fallen music legends, George Harrison and Jeff Porcarro. From their recent album of cover songs, Through The Looking Glass, they played the Harrison classic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", and the Steely Dan classic "Bodhisattva". For those of you who are unaware, Jeff Porcorro was the session drummer on many of Steely Dan's great albums. Both of these versions were inspired and sounded phenomenal. Lukather took the lead vocals on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and played a rather somber and mellow version of the song - that is until he launched into the guitar solo. His solo on this song is one of the best I have ever witnessed. I think Clapton, himself, would have just humbly shook his head in awe after seeing this performance.
The setlist definitely had some room for improvement. I could have lived without the "Waiting For Your Love" (medley), and replaced it with some of their better, lesser-known, songs. They did close the show with the arena rocker "White Sister", from their second album Hydra, which was a nice surprise. I would have liked to have heard a few songs from Mindfields, especially "Caught In The Balance", which sounded excellent on Livefields, but they decided to stick mostly with the hits. I guess I can forgive this, being that it was their 25th Anniversary tour.
The production on this DVD is superior. The DTS and Dolby 5.1 surround sound mixes are excellent. Each instrument and vocalist is mixed perfectly, and you really get the feeling of being there. The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen format, and it is sharp and clear. The director and camera crew should provide training to some of their lesser-talented counterparts out there, as they did a flawless job. The virtuoso performances of each musician was captured perfectly while never distracting from the overall stage show and live atmosphere.
The special features on this DVD are also excellent. "Through The Looking Glass" was a hilarious look behind the scenes during Toto's recent world tour. Highlights, were a drunken bowling match between the band members, and the band interacting with their fans around the world. Hopefully the rejuvenated Toto will continue in the direction that Mindfields/Livefields has started, and they will find renewed success here in the United States.
Reviewed by Paul M. Roy - February 2004