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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.