Toto / The Darkness Hot
Written by James Gaden     July 02, 2019    
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Toto / The Darkness - Royal Hospital Chelsea, London (UK) - 13 June 2019

When it comes to memorable or special gigs, sometimes it's not always just the performance and the actual headline act that make it so; this show was one of those occasions. The concert itself was part of the Live At Chelsea 2019 event that was being held at the Chelsea Royal Hospital which is home to the legendary Chelsea Pensioners. The location was more like a country estate than a hospital and as soon as you entered the grounds it was clear this was not the usual sort of gig you would attend at Wembley Arena or the O2 Dome. There was a VIP area with tables and umbrellas, a huge bar tent, multiple food stands (including pizza, a bakery, curry, burgers) and a plethora of picnic tables/benches that spanned the length of the facilities area. The performance arena was set up within the Charles II courtyard (Figure Court) which was surrounded on three sides by the hospital buildings with a temporary stand, floor seating and the stage at the far end. It is a slight shame that the weather was somewhat poor as it was the perfect location for sunning yourself on the grass with a beer in hand as you waited for the show to start. I have to give immense credit to the organisers as they did a great job on every front. My only early concern was the fact that I am not a fan of all-seated gigs and this was set up as one, but once again those in charge had anticipated this eventuality. The whole thing reminded me very much of the Bryan Adams show I went to many years ago as part of the Route Of The Kings set of concerts at Hyde Park. I think an old friend hit the nail on the head by simply summing that night up as being "a bit bloody posher than the normal Rock gig" and that could be equally applied to tonight.


Having soaked up the atmospheric location and enjoyed the facilities, it was eventually time for the show to start. The support act tonight was The Darkness who I had seen many years earlier when they opened for Def Leppard and always liked (even though I had failed to see them again since then). Known for being a bit riotous, I wondered if there would be some expectations given the prestigious location, such as no swearing, but when they opened with 'Givin' Up' it appeared that wasn't the case. Justin Hawkins was clearly in mischievous mood from the off; he told everyone as long as they didn't cross the red ropes, everyone was welcome to come down the front and dance, but he was quickly informed this wasn't the case and that those who wanted to stand or dance had to do so from the side... which is exactly where I had positioned myself. There were more fan favourites from their fantastic 'Permission To Land' record with 'Growing On Me' and 'Love Is Only A Feeling' before the band jumped to their 'Pinewood Smile' album for 'Japanese Prisoner Of Love'. The eight-song set continued with a lively rendition of 'Black Shuck' (complete with audience participation) and then it was time for possibly my favourite Darkness track in 'One Way Ticket' which went down a storm from where I was stood. My earlier expectation regarding behaviour was confirmed when 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman' came to a close with a slightly different ending. Hawkins confirmed that he was told to watch the swearing, and then proceeded to unquestionably launch himself far and away over the line of expected etiquette with a C-bomb (alongside a few drug-based jokes through the set). They closed their support slot with a barnstorming performance of 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' where a large number of the audience boogied and danced away. Although Hawkins was a bit buried in the mix vocally and the crowd weren't quite as animated as you might expect at a "normal" Darkness gig (although most people looked like they were having a good time), I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them again. It has certainly fuelled my wish to see them headline again where hopefully there will be an outing for the gloriously titled 'Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)'.


The half-hour interval would normally be plenty of time for a loo break and beer top-up, but given the more spaced out nature of the venue it was a bit tighter than normal to get back to the seat. Toto soon appeared on stage and kicked off with 'Devil's Tower'. It took people a couple of songs from The Darkness to decide to move to the set-aside standing area on either side of the seating blocks, but for Toto most people (including myself) had made the same decision again by the first chorus. Toto didn't waste too much time before they got stuck into a "well-known" number with 'Hold The Line' being the second song of the set and it should come as little surprise that it got quite a reaction from the audience. The weather had held off for the most part up to this point, but the rain started to come down heavier during the headliner's set; however, it failed to dampen spirits and everyone simply got out the rain jackets or ponchos before carrying on regardless. The set-list contained stuff from right across the band's catalogue with the likes of 'Lovers In The Night', 'Alone' (from their latest '40 Trips Around The Sun' release), 'I Will Remember' and 'English Eyes'. The musicians in Toto are all immensely talented performers so it didn't come as much of a shock to me that they were given their moment to shine with a lengthy instrumental number entitled 'Jake To The Bone'. If I am brutally honest, it was a bit long-winded for my taste but there can be no denying it was impressive to witness.

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Like many veteran bands these days, the core line-up has been expanded to include more than your basic drums/bass/guitar/vocalist formation. The line-up tonight comprised drummer Shannon Forrest who was aided by the talented percussionist Lenny Castro, while there were also two keyboardists with long-time member Steve Porcaro and the exceedingly (and ridiculously) impressive Dominique "Xavier" Taplin on a second bank of keys. The remainder of the band was made up by sax/flute player Warren Ham, bassist Shem von Schroeck, the legend that is Steve Lukather on guitar and finally Joseph Williams on vocals. Although still part of the band, David Paich was not taking part in the tour as he is on a touring hiatus to enable him to focus on his health (Taplin has replaced Paich until he can return). Like a good percentage of those that attended I really wanted to hear those "hits" and following the instrumental number it was time for the second of their three "big numbers" via 'Rosanna'. It got quite a reaction from the audience and I can't deny it was an absolute joy to hear this track live. At this point, the stools came out for an acoustic segment and one moment that stood out for me during this stripped back section was 'Human Nature' which is one of my favourite Michael Jackson songs. I don't know whether I simply had never read the credits – or possibly just not twigged to the name of Steve Porcaro as song-writer – but I never associated this song with Toto and it was glorious to hear it during such a prestigious gig.


The night had begun to fully roll in and the light show became even more effective as it lit up the picturesque courtyard. One of the most delightful aspects of the whole thing was to see the Chelsea Pensioners stood/sat at their windows looking down on the stage as the show played out. The gig continued with the likes of 'Stop Loving You', 'Girl Goodbye', 'Lion' and 'Make Believe', but scattered amongst this run of songs were more instrumental explorations such as a piano solo from Taplin that was frankly staggering (despite my comment above about these instrumental/non-vocal moments, this was jaw-droppingly brilliant) and a rendition of 'Dune (Desert Theme)' as well as a version of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. As the two-hour plus show started to head towards its end, it was time for "that song". Given the clock had clicked past ten, the sky was dark and the rain had stopped it was pretty much perfect timing for such an iconic track. The rendition tonight lasted over seven minutes and it allowed the entire crowd a lengthy opportunity to sing, dance and make the most of it. The twenty-one song set was finally brought to its end via an encore performance of 'Home Of The Brave'. As the main lights illuminated the whole courtyard, a rather damp but apparently immensely happy crowd then quickly dispersed and headed home through the various exits.

This wonderful gig will live long in my memory, not just because of the uniqueness of the venue but due to the fine show delivered by both bands. Toto were one of just a few big veteran bands that I hadn't previously seen live; I had tickets for one of their shows some five years ago but missed it due to a mix-up regarding the date. I am so glad I have finally managed to rectify that mistake and even more so to have done it with a rather unusual and special gig. The Darkness were absolute entertainment and Toto were just fabulous in terms of performance ability and showmanship. There are some bands who have been around for the same amount of time or longer who simply can't perform like they used to – that is not something that can be labelled at Toto. Tonight may not have been perfect due to the rain and a sound mix issue for The Darkness, but it was still an absolutely brilliant night; from the venue and facilities to the show itself, I will remember this gig for a long time... the only way it could have been more enjoyable is if the rain had indeed stayed in Africa!

Words: Dave Scott. Photos: Michelle Compton


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