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Jakarta celebrates Toto at Java Jazz

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, March 21, 2019  /  02:15 pm
Jakarta celebrates Toto at Java Jazz

Iconic: Toto lead vocalist Joseph Stanley Williams performs during the BNI Java Jazz Festival at JIExpo Kemayoran, North Jakarta on March 1. (JP/Donny Fernando)

Nowadays it is cool to like Toto, an aging pop band that was once the butt of jokes in western pop culture.

In 1998, the American animated series South Park aired an episode in its second season called “Gnomes”.

In the episode, the four main primary school aged protagonists give a public presentation to the town’s mayoral committee on the need to stop a Starbucks-esque coffee shop from being allowed to open in the small mountain town, as it would threaten small businesses.

The episode is a humorous and interesting take on the benefits and drawbacks of capitalism.

During the preparations for the event, the mayor asks for a band to play, suggesting that it be, “you know, a band that everyone likes. Like […] uhhh […] Toto!”

The mayor’s aides trade brief poker-faced reactions.

Later in the episode a cartoonified Toto is seen finishing its set.

“Give it up for Toto, ladies and gentlemen!” says the event’s host, to which only one person in the big crowd enthusiastically shouts “Wooo! Totoo!! Totoooo!”. But as he shouts, he realizes he is the only one doing so. The rest of the crowd looks at him funny.

This was 1998, mind you, a year when Toto was not part of the public’s consciousness, having fallen from its heights in the 1980s.

In the west, older pop bands, performing 40th anniversary concerts, are usually seen as washed up, with only a certain demographic still caring about them.

However, thanks to a recent surge in interest driven by internet culture, Toto has done what many of its non-indie-approved peers have failed to achieve; appeal to a younger generation and once again become part of the public’s consciousness.

A meme of Toto based on the song Africa.A meme of Toto based on the song Africa. (-/-)

However, Toto has always been popular in Indonesia, performing in Jakarta in 1992, 1996, 2004, 2006 and most recently in 2019 for this year’s edition of Java Jazz.

The band also planned to visit in 2008 for a Surabaya show but cancelled because of the promoter’s negligence. The frequency of the band’s visits to the country, as well as the constantly positive response it receives – tickets for the 2004 Jakarta show were reportedly sold out – demonstrates how big of a deal the band is here.

For one, the band’s 1982 smash hit “Africa”, as well as “I’ll Be Over You” and “Stop Loving You” remain Indonesian classic rock radio staples and have been a part of many Indonesians’ childhoods and adolescents.

The crowd at Toto’s Java Jazz 2019 performance was an interesting mix of young and old. It could be that Toto’s music has been passed down from fathers to their children or from uncles to nephews and nieces. Or it could be that in the past three years, the band has experienced an unlikely resurgence thanks to internet meme culture.

With the internet essentially using meme culture as a means of mainstream commentary and expression for the past five years or so, somewhere along the line, “Africa” was turned into a meme.

But the memes of Toto mostly view the band in a positive light, albeit sometimes ironically.

It became cool to endlessly praise “Africa”. It became part of online social currency.

Sometimes, the memes' impacts have gone too far though, like when one German artist in 2018 planned to erect a stupid, almost neo-colonialist solar-powered installation in Africa’s Namib Desert that would play the song on a non-stop loop until the end of time. 

But stupidities aside, the divinity of “Africa” is one that is well deserved.

The song, even though it describes the continent from a rather simplistic Caucasian point of view, is a versatile piece of rock, funk and synthpop packed with a singalong chorus that begs to be sung over and over again.

Sometimes at shows, the band stretches “Africa” to great lengths, as was the case at Java Jazz, with the band stretching the five-minute song to 10 to 15 minutes.

Here is a band that has for decades showcased its musical mastery of rock, pop, jazz and funk.

The band’s members have performed individually and collectively as session musicians on no less than 5,000 20th century records, ranging from Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan to Give My Regards to Broad Street by Paul McCartney to Thriller by Michael Jackson. In fact, founding member and keyboardist Steve Porcaro wrote Michael Jackson’s hit “Human Nature”.

Quite rightly, “Human Nature” was part of the band’s setlist that night, albeit a shorter version.

The rest of the setlist was peppered with the band’s classic hits such as “Hold the Line”, “I’ll Be Over You”, “I Will Remember” and a staggering performance of “Rosanna”, coupled with warmly received new material such as “English Eyes” and “Devil’s Tower”.

The ensemble of middle aged men, bodies and instruments – and hair – chiseled from decades of experience and expertise, were immaculate in their execution.

Frontman and guitarist Steve Lukather never let the audience’s eyes move away from him. Porcaro played it cool while vocalist Joseph Williams came off as a bit adorable at times in between his attempts to sing like he did 40 years ago. Touring members Lenny Castro and Shannon Forrest were living metronomes on the drums and keyboardist Dominique “Xavier” Taplin, well, stole the show at times.

Lukather, Porcaro and Williams are the only original members in the lineup.

Founding keyboardist and backing vocalist David Paich did not join them on this tour.

In the past, Toto has also had its share of tragedies, with the deaths of the two Porcaro brothers Mike and Jeff, who founded the band with Steve.

But their spirits were given a tribute as at one point in show, Williams tried to rouse cheers from the amazed Jakarta crowd: “Give your love to our two brothers up in the sky, Mike and Jeff! We love you!”

But of course, it was that song called “Rossana” that caused biggest commotion and the most positive energy to radiate from the audience. Sure, even if it was their best performance of the night, it did not matter. Jakarta was yet again blessed by Toto’s rain.  

If only they had not blessed the city so much. Before and after the band’s set, it rained heavily. The natural phenomenon seemed to pause just for the performance. (hdt)