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Yes and Toto united by music, grief on summer tour
The pairing of Yes and Toto initially looked strange on paper -- one a titan of progressive rock, the other a Grammy Award-winning outfit known for pop hits such as "Rosanna," "Africa" and "Hold The Line."
But the two groups "have a stronger connection than people realize," according to Toto guitarist Steve Lukather -- and one that's grown even tighter, and more tragic, in recent months.
Both bands have lost much-loved bass players this year. Chris Squire, who passed away unexpectedly June 27 from cancer, was Yes' co-founder and the only constant member in the British group's history. Toto, meanwhile, lost Mike Porcaro on March 15 after a long battle with cancer. The groups are each paying tribute to their fallen musical comrades during the tour, and that's created yet another bond between them.
"It's bittersweet; here we are, two bands that lost their bass players," Lukather, 57, says from his home in Los Angeles. "Chris Squire was a legend, and a friend. We expected him to get well, and we made joint statements about the tour, how excited we were to work together. So we're all kind of a little broken, but at the same time music heals the soul. It can't bring back the brothers that aren't her anymore; all you can do is keep the music alive."
Yes drummer Alan White, now the group's senior member after joining in 1972, says that was exactly Squire's wish before he died.
"He called me and asked me to keep everything going regardless of what happens," White, 66, says by phone from his home in California. "So absolutely we're moving ahead. I'm gonna do it for him (but) it's certainly not gonna be easy without him." And he adds, Yes is moving forward confidence that most everybody else feels the same way.
"Everything has been pretty positive in that regard," the drummer says. "(The fans) are behind the band and want the band to keep moving forward here. It doesn't seem like anybody's kind of given up on the band, which is really encouraging and it'll help us move things forward. Things can't just stop, y'know. We've got to maintain the Yes name and...meet the high standards of musicianship Chris created."
It also helps to be on the road with sympathetic musicians -- and a complementary music package. Toto's pop hits, after all, somewhat obscure the more aggressive and complex nature of much of the group's repertoire, although that's certainly appreciate by White and the rest of Yes.
"I think it's a very compatible band for us to tour with," He says. "I've known the guys in Toto for years and years and years. They've all been pretty good friends of mine. I've just been familiar with the band and know the band exceptionally well. I think it's a good kind of matching process, and I think it will be a great evening of entertainment."
Lukather -- who also does double duty in Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band -- points out that he's worked with Squire in the past, as well as White and former Yes singer Jon Anderson, and is a "huge fan" of Yes guitarist Steve Howe. "I think it looks weirder than it really is," he says. "I think the idea was one plus one equals three, so we're just going to go out and have as good a time as we can each night.
The tour catches both groups in creatively busy cycles. During March Toto released "Toto XIV," its first new album in nine years, to mostly favorable reviews. Yes, meanwhile, put out "Heaven & Earth" last year -- its first with current singer Jon Davison -- and this year released the archival concert sets "Progeny," a boxed set from 1972, and "Like It Is" from 2014. Yes will also be paying tribute to Squire during its annual Cruise To The Edge during November out of Miami, but White says new music is on the back burner for the moment.
"We're moving ahead, but it's too early days yet to really even venture into thinking like that," he notes. "We just want to get the band, kind of try to work again and meet the high standards of musicianship that Chris created. And so we jsut want to live up to that and get the band on an even keel first, I think, before we think anything about writing new stuff."
Yes and Toto
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15.
Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights. Tickets are $45-$115 pavilion, $29.50 lawn.
Call 586-268-9700 or visit freedomhill.net.
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