Playing a show in Mobile right after the celebrations of Mardi Gras have given way to the somber sobriety of Ash Wednesday could be a daunting challenge for some bands. Joseph Williams thinks Toto is up to it.
And he has plenty of reason to feel that way as the group heads to Mobile for a show at the Mobile Saenger Theater on Saturday February 25th. After all, this isn’t just a Grammy-winning group, having put out an impressive string of hits from 1978’s “Hold the Line” to 1988’s “Pamela.” It’s one that won the pop culture lottery in 2018, when the band covered Weezer Toto’s “Africa,” only to propel it to No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart. It may have been a tongue-in-cheek homage, but it brought the song’s (and the band’s) unironic charm back to many new listeners.
Williams, now in his third stint as Toto’s singer, has been with the group intermittently since 1986. He sings alongside guitarist Steve Lukather, who was one of the group’s founders. As for the rest of the band, tour promotional materials bill them as the group’s fifteenth incarnation, with veteran artists whose credits include working with Huey Lewis and the News, Snoop Dogg, Prince and Ringo Star, among other notable artists.
Williams said he’s confident the band has what it takes to get people over the post-Mardi Gras blues.
“It’s a little bit rockier than maybe in the past,” he said. “We’re entering our second year with newer members… We did a tour with Journey last year with the same characters. You will be able to enjoy this. We have some incredibly talented musicians, which is a requirement to be in the band.”
“You’ll hear all your favorite Toto hits,” he said. “‘Africa’ obviously. We have some surprises that we will pull out of the different albums over the years. It’s a singing, fun festival.”
There will likely be some deeper cuts under the easy choices. The depth of the Toto catalog ensures that a number of fan favorites have emerged over the decades.
“There are so many,” Williams said. “‘Georgy Porgy’, there’s ‘Afraid of Love’, there’s ‘I’ll Supply the Love’, there’s so many from those first four albums. There’s some deep stuff, some great stuff from it [’The Seventh One’] which was very successful for us in Europe. ‘Pamela’ was a Top 10 song in 1988, ‘I’ll Be Over You’ was a #1 song. There’s ‘Home of the Brave’, which is always a good crowd pleaser.”
Williams has been touring with Toto long enough to see audiences evolving.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Obviously because in the last few years of ‘Africa”s renewed success with bands like Weezer, there are a lot of younger people in the crowd that are interested in seeing the original band that did the tunes and we’ve progressed kindly a younger fan base. There are a lot of people in their 20’s who go back and discover 80’s stuff. And obviously you have the children of people who were fans of Toto at the time.”
Younger fans seem drawn to the craftsmanship of ’70s and ’80s pop, he said, from production to writing.
“One of the great things about the history of the band is that the albums have been very well received,” he said. “The craftsmanship that went into it was taken really seriously and you can tell.”
Emerging from the pandemic doldrums is helping bring a sense of renewed energy, he said.
“For us, we couldn’t play or work for two years,” he said. “Coming back was a huge thrill and we’re really excited to be able to do it again.”
He hopes audiences will feel the same thrill, he said.
“I hope they go through life happy, with a tune in their heads,” he said.
Toto will perform at the Mobile Saenger Theater on Saturday February 25th at 8pm. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, with prices starting at $35.50.