Never has the phrase, "Well, they're big in Japan!" been more applicable than with Toto. The aging rockers managed three monster hits in America in the 1980s, "Africa," "Hold the Line" and "Rosanna," before disappearing without a trace Stateside. But in the intervening years, they've continued to pack 'em in all across Europe, and they remain one of the biggest touring attractions in Japan. Either us Yanks just don't get it, or those crazy Europeans know something we don't.
Unfortunately, I have to agree with the folks on this side of the Atlantic. Watching 'Live in Amsterdam,' I was left befuddled and bemused. At the risk of incurring the wrath of irate Toto fans across the globe, the band's show is kinda lame. The set consists of a single black curtain draped behind the stage, with the “lightshow” looking like it was assembled from a box of leftover bulbs from Home Depot. Although the show documents a stop in Amsterdam on the group's 25th anniversary tour, which should have generated a rapturous audience reaction, the crowd seems oddly distanced. Despite the fact that the band still sells out sizable arenas, for most of the concert's long 140-minute runtime, I thought I was watching a bad Toto cover band performing at some cheap rock club.
The lack of an exciting visual presentation would have been fine, however, if the band sounded great. Alas, the group just does not seem musically fit. The instrumentation is indeed fabulously tight, but it also has that overly-professional, canned feel -- like a band that has performed the same songs over and over again, for decades. Unfortunately, both lead singer Bobby Kimball and supporting vocalist/pianist David Paich (who "sings" an atrocious version of "Africa") wear out quickly. Kimball can still nail those high notes, but he also starts to sound way out of breath, even out of tune, by the end of the show. And maybe it's a cheap shot, but the band's expanded waistlines and silly, dated rock-star moves (fist pumps, ridiculously over-packed trousers etc.) only add to the unintentional, Spinal Tap-esque camp. This is not endearing nostalgia, but musical mummification.
Still, I gotta give points to the band for their unbridled enthusiasm, They look like they’re having a great time onstage, constantly smiling and playfully interacting with each other and the moribund audience. I guess when you've been in the business for over twenty-five years, you're just grateful anyone still shows up at your gigs. At least Toto seems humble, appreciative, and excited to be performing, so hey -- I may not fully get the band's appeal, but if you're a Toto fan, god bless you -- I'm sure you'll love this concert regardless.
The track list includes: 01. Medley: Girl Goodbye/Goodbye Elenore/Child's Anthem/I'll Supply the Love / 02. Gift with a Golden Gun / 03. While My Guitar Gently Weeps / 04. Bodhisattva / 05. Africa / 06. David Paich Solo / 07. Dune / Don't Stop Me Now / 08. Medley: Waiting For Your Love/Georgy Porgy/Lion/Hydra/English Eyes/Till the End / 09. I Won't Hold You Back / 10. Rosanna / 11. Afraid of Love / 12. Hold the Line / 13. Next to You / 14. Home of the Brave / 15. White Sister
As a nice courtesy, Eagle Rock not only sent to us the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions of 'Toto: Live in Amsterdam' for review, but the standard-def DVD as well. This made for a nice comparison, but also a bit of an unfortunate surprise. The DVD looked rather bad, with a dark, grainy and often artifact-laced presentation -- and the high-def versions aren't much better. Both feature identical 1080i/VC-1 encodes, but they don't offer much improvement. 'Live in Amsterdam' is hardly the cream of the HD DVD crop of music releases.
The source is inconsistent. Grain comes and goes, to the point where the disparity is distracting. Colors are typically vivid for a live concert recording, but veer towards the oversaturated, with some bleeding. I was also disappointed by the level of edge enhancement, which is not as bad as the standard-def version but still unacceptable for HD. Detail also varies, with close-ups predictably better than long shots, which look soft and flat. I'm giving this one three stars because, on its own, it's fine. But compared to the better HD DVD concert discs I've seen, it just can't compete.
Thankfully, the audio is much better than the video. Eagle Rock offers three options: uncompressed PCM 2.0 stereo (48kHz/24-bit/2.3mbps), and DTS-HD High-Resolution (1.5mbps) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps) surround tracks.
The PCM achieves the superior fidelity, even though it is stereo only. Clarity is improved, with fine sonic shadings more apparent, from Bobby Kimball's high notes to David Kaich's excellent piano skills. However, the DTS-HD in particular benefits from having a dedicated subwoofer channel, which delivers the best low bass of the three tracks (at least it did on the three tracks I directly compared: "Africa," "Rosanna" and "Hold the Line"). In terms of surround use, this is another one of those live mixes that simply aims most of the crowd noise to the rears, and provides a bit of music bleed. Unless you just love hearing shrieks and applause behind your head, you'll probably find the PCM track is the most rewarding.
There is only one supplement, the 29-minute tour diary "Through the Looking Glass." I guess this is what happens to all aging bands -- sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are replaced by bowling, practical jokes, and rock 'n' roll. Seriously -- these guys go bowling a lot, and the most dastardly pranks they play are on their Japanese concert promoters. Still, the band is in high spirits, so I guess fans will get a kick out of this generic footage. (Note that the featurette is presented in 4:3 full screen and 480i/MPEG-2 video only.)
I just wasn't a huge fan of 'Toto: Live in Amsterdam.' I still love some of the band's biggest '80s hits, but their 25th anniversary reunion show is boringly staged and musically flat. This HD DVD release is also on the lower-rung of next-gen music releases, with a middling transfer and generic behind-the-scenes footage. Still, if you're a Toto fan, this disc is probably just good enough to warrant a look.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.