Toto concert photos: Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012

Joseph Williams of Toto at Denver's Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Vocalist Joseph Williams performs with Toto at Denver’s Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

So here’s — not my first attempt at, but first real opportunity to shoot — concert photos. And while the venue could’ve been better from a lighting perspective, the subjects were fantastic. Steve Lukather, one of my personal guitar heroes, and the always-fantastic Toto headlined the third annual Denver Day of Rock.

The Day of Rock is a massive free concert event that benefits children’s charities in Denver and takes up much of Denver’s 16th Street Mall with 5 stages and numerous art, craft and service vendors’ booths. The main stage in Skyline Park at 16th and Arapahoe streets had space for 2000 people or more, and was completely packed by 8 p.m. on Saturday when headliners Toto were scheduled to perform.

Steve Lukather of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Guitarist and singer Steve Lukather performs with Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)
David Paich of Toto at Denver's Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Keyboardist and singer David Paich performs with Toto at Denver’s Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

As the crowd strolled in and the grounds became more and more packed, guitar techs and roadies busied themselves making sure everything was perfect for Toto’s first Denver performance in many years. As the band took the stage, the crowd exploded.

Steve Lukather and the “high school friends” were in fine form and played all the hits: “Rosanna,” “Only the Children,” “Hold the Line,” “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “Human Nature” and, of course, the fan-demanded megahit “Africa” as an encore.

Steve Porcaro of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Steve Porcaro on keyboards as Toto performs at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Singer Joseph Williams, son of famed movie composer John Williams, poured his heart into the vocals as David Paich and Steve Porcaro pounded the ivories. Special guest bassist Nathan East drove the band with his funk-influenced bass and just the right amount of slap, and drummer Simon Phillips laid down a solid beat with inventive fills and near-perfect energy.

Lukather introduced all the members of the band before they launched into “Hold the Line,” during which backup singer Jenny Douglas joined Williams to turn the song into a powerful duet performance, with a long improvisation in the middle that brought the crowd to the height of anticipation before Douglas and Williams brought the song back around to a jazzier interlude and finally came full-circle to wrap it up.

Joseph Williams of Toto at Denver's Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Singer Joseph Williams belts out “I Won’t Hold You Back” as Toto headlines the main stage at Denver’s Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Toto played one encore after fans repeatedly screamed to hear “Africa” throughout the show. As the band retook the stage, Williams asked the crowd, “Hm, what should we play?”

Of course, the crowd responded, “Africa!”

Lukather said, “What? I can’t hear you?” and the crowd responded even louder.

Williams and Lukather made a show of reluctantly agreeing to play the song, but only if the crowd would sing along.

Jenny Douglas and Joseph Williams of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Singers Jenny Douglas and Joseph Williams of Toto turned the band’s massive hit “Hold the Line” into a powerful duet at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

“Africa” began with a faithful-to-the-record rendition, Paich singing the lyrics the entire crowd knew and sang back to him. The whole band joined in on the harmonies when they reached the chorus and the crowd was nearly deafening behind me (and I was right in front of a speaker stack). Lukather and Co. drew it out with multiple choruses and a passion-drenched jam session after the bridge, drawing the performance into an 8- or 9-minute powerhouse.

As a long-time fan of Toto it was a great concert for me, even if it was only about one hour and 45 minutes. As a reviewer, I’d have to say that while it may not have been the very best concert I’ve ever been to (lived The Church, Bluebird Theater, Denver, March 19, 2004), I certainly won’t soon be forgetting this powerful performance. The energy was infectious and the crowd response was undeniable.

Joseph Williams of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Vocalist Joseph Williams of Toto takes a momentary break as the rest of the band trades bars through an intense improvisation during their performance at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

There were a few moments where the sound was a touch overdriven (sounded like board inputs were clipping), but overall the mix was clean and well-balanced.

The photos: I know at most concerts a photographer will only get access for the first few songs and I was fortunate at this free, outdoor performance to be able to shoot the entire thing. I took my Nikon FM2 with a 20mm f/4 lens for a couple wide shots when the stage was well lit, but relied for the photos above on my Canon 30D. The only lens I brought for the digital was my 135mm f/2, and the spot I got right next to the speaker stack stage-left was almost perfect.

Steve Lukather of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
As Toto retakes the stage for an encore, guitarist Steve Lukather tells the crowd they’ll play their megahit “Africa” if the crowd joins in, Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Joseph Williams of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Toto vocalist Joseph Williams sings “Human Nature” at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. The song, penned by Toto’s synth player Steve Porcaro, was a hit as the sixth single from Michael Jackson’s career-defining album, “Thriller.” (Daniel J. Schneider)
Nathan East of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Bassist Nathan East performing “Africa” with Toto during their encore at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Steve Lukather of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Guitarist Steve Lukather lost in his solo during “Hold the Line” as Toto performs at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I took something like 2,400 shots since I had the freedom to shoot nonstop and since I wasn’t sure how the small, crowded stage and white tent (with open sides and bits of the city and the park’s trees visible through them) would work as a backdrop for a lot of shots, especially since the park is reasonably well-lit (i.e. nothing was ever truly dark) and the stage lighting was less elaborate than I’m used to seeing.

I probably could’ve presented about 100 shots that I think are decent shots, but these are the 14 that I think were really the best. I chose two more to give to The Denver Post to add to Kevin Simpson’s story about the day’s free concerts.

Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Guitarist Steve Lukather and singer Joseph Williams of Toto during their fan-demanded performance of “Africa” as an encore at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Steve Lukather of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Guitarist Steve Lukather of Toto as the band launches into massive improvisations during “Hold the Line” at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Every shot was made at 135mm at f/2; most were at ISO 640, though I tried ISO 1250 initially before realizing I didn’t need the ability to be at 1/8000 shutter speed with +1 exposure compensation. The only post-processing on these beside a little cropping was the lightest zephyr of levels adjustment on a few, a tiny bit of noise reduction and a touch of High Pass sharpening. I want to stress how light the levels adjustments were: I only tweaked them enough to let you see the texture of Lukather’s incredibly white shirt when it was a touch too white.

Joseph Williams of Toto at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012
Singer Joseph Williams as the lights dim for the last time on Toto’s headlining performance at Denver Day of Rock, May 26, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)
  • Nathan East

    Thanks SCROLLWRIGHT …. we had FUN!

    •  I’m glad to hear it! Thanks for dropping by!

    • Looks like  it was a great show. Thanks for the pics SCROLLWRIGHT!
      p.s. Nathan, I watched a DVD of the making of a Joe Satriani record that you were on a couple of days ago. You haven’t aged a bit! Still killin that bass too!
      Brad

  • Greggbowman

    Really nice photos Daniel….didn’t see any of the drummer though…nice shots!!   cheers…Gregg Bowman

    •  Thanks, Gregg! I tried and tried to get Phillips in a frame but the best I ever managed was a partial face shot through some light scaffolding, Porcaro’s keyboard stands and his drum kit — end result was pretty atrocious. I was basically wedged in just behind the stage-left light standard and speaker stack so even the photo of Porcaro was actually shot through the scaffolding in a moment when he was lit and the standard wasn’t. I wouldn’t have managed a shot of Nathan East, either if he hadn’t stepped to the front of the stage for a few minutes during Africa.

      Cheers!

  • Kenn Bisio

    Nathan East is a beast.

    Yep, you should always avoid shutter speeds faster than 1/2000 because digital struggles with reciprocity, similar to film. Meaning whites become chalkie and blacks becoming muddy. If you do the math you could have been at 400 ISO at 1/2000. Then you’d have no need for Noise Ninja. And why we’re you at +1 over? No need. Your shutter was fast enough. Plus 1 adds contrast, explaining the blocked whites. Remember, dit hates whites and reds.

    These are exactly what readers expect to see. Look at Jim Marshall’s work from the 60s. Now that was some great work.

    • Yes he is. First time I’ve seen Nathan live, but very impressive and inspiring.

      I wasn’t actually AT +1 over — I just could’ve been with ISO 1250. I settled on 640 because in aperture priority it was still trying to go down to 1/8 for some of the darker shots. For most of the brightest shots (Lukather’s shirt in the spotlight, basically) it was mostly at 1/2000 or 1/1000. I feel like I learned an awful lot about concert photography this time out, so I’m anxious to apply those lessons to more shows. Thanks for the deconstruction, Kenn. I need more in-depth critique to keep learning and growing.

      So, these being what readers expect to see, are you suggesting tha tI need to find more unexpected moments? I could buy that, easily. I’ve a long way to go to even hope I could feel any comparison to Marshall was apt. Jim was a legend in his own lifetime, and will continue to inspire rock photogs for, probably, eternity. He certainly inspires me.

  • David

    Just one word : superb !

  • You played the US?  WOW!

    •  Yeah, big wow! Totally worth the wait, though. And stoked they chose Denver for the comeback!

  • Rob

    Thanks Daniels, really amazing pics!

    Toto still plays many sold out concerts in Europe during the summer (last year Amsterdam 7,500 people, amazing concert), I’m lucky to have seen them many (20+) times since 1990. Great to have Joseph back on leads, and Steve P. back.

  • Tracey Cooke

    Great Photos .. thanks so much … Tracey , New Zealand

  • Betocayro

    Excelente, desde el Peru te agradecemos por el esfuerzo a favor de quienes amamos a nuestra emblematica TOTO.
    Saludos
    Edwin