By Brian Ives
Last night, Ringo Starr and his latest All-Starr Band – featuring former Santana keyboardist/singer Gregg Rolie, guitarist/singer Todd Rundgren, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and Mr. Mister bassist/singer Richard Page with drummer Gregg Bissonette and saxophonist/keyboardist Warren Ham – played the first of two nights at New York’s Beacon Theatre. As one would expect, there were lots of fans singing along to Beatles classics, as well as hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s courtesy of the rest of the band, and plenty of chants of “peace and love, peace and love!” from Ringo.
This particular iteration of the All-Starrs has been playing together since 2012 (with Ham filling in for usual sax player Mark Rivera, currently occupied with Billy Joel’s shows). They, in fact, play more like a band than like a conglomeration of “all stars.” While everyone on the stage clearly reveres Ringo, there is a clear mutual respect and a warm rapport between all the players (Rundgren promised that they’d all “make sweet passionate love on stage” but Lukather later pointed out “I’m a virgin”). Ringo seems equally at home as the frontman and as the drummer (it’s somehow a bit bizarre – but fun – to watch him play drums on ’80s hits like “Rosanna” and “Kyrie”). As he once told this writer in an interview, “I’m a ‘band guy,'” an he proves it with this particular band. Here are a few takeaways from last night’s concert:
- The early songs that the Beatles covered might sound dated, but they’re timeless. Ringo – still a huge Carl Perkins fan after all these years, and rightfully so – covered the man twice. The show opened with “Matchbox,” which packed the punch of the best garage rock from this or any other era. Later on, they played “Honey Don’t,” which still sounds great, and ditto for the Shirelles’ “Boys.”
- Freed of the constraints of radio, Steve Lukather enjoys stretching out Toto’s biggest hits into lengthy jams: if you haven’t seen “Rosanna” and “Africa” performed live, you might not think of them as guitar workouts. Ditto for Richard Page’s Mr. Mister songs, particularly “Broken Wings,” which saw Ringo sitting on, and playing, a cajon.
- Don’t sleep on Ringo’s solo material! He performed two songs from his latest album, 2012’s Ringo 2012, which he introduced rather sheepishly. When some audience members cheered for the new songs, he said, “And all five people who bought the album are here!” But “Wings” (which he originally recorded for 1977’s Ringo the 4th and re-recorded for 2012) and “Anthem” are worthy additions to his solo catalog.
- It’s easy to understand why Todd Rundgren didn’t become a huger star, but it’s still disappointing. He’s wonderfully wacky, but It’s hard to know what to make of him: on one hand, he writes beautiful pop songs like “I Saw the Light,” a huge contrast to some of his weirder material. On the other, he doesn’t always like playing his hits: Ringo mentioned that Rundgren never wants to play “Bang the Drum All Day” (but clearly Starr put his foot down and forced the issue, it’s obviously a song that he feels an affinity for). But with his two toned hair (white on the top, jet black on the bottom), his psychadelic garb, his witty stage banter and his fab dance moves, it’s a blast to watch him on stage.
- The reunion of the original Santana band can’t come quickly enough. Gregg Rolie led the band through “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va,” maybe the most powerful (non-Beatles or Ringo) songs of the evening. His voice hasn’t aged at all, and while it was a blast to hear Lukather and Rundgren sink their teeth into the guitar parts, the idea of watching Rolie playing those songs with Carlos Santana and Neal Schon is tantalizing.
But, at the end of the day, there’s nothing like Beatles songs. When Ringo plays any of them – from “Don’t Pass Me By” (which he started on the piano) to “Yellow Submarine” to (especially) “With a Little Help From My Friends” – the joy from the crowd, which had a surprising age range, was palpable. When Ringo sings his 1973 hit “Photograph” – “I want you here to have and hold/As the years go by and we grow old and gray,” has a lot more poignancy now than it did 41 years ago. Ditto for “All I’ve got is a photograph/And I realize you’re not coming back anymore.” Happily, Ringo and his merry band return to the Beacon for a second show tonight. And here’s hoping that the seemingly ageless drummer returns for many years to come. (Perhaps the next All-Starr Band can include artists from the ’90s/’00s: a whole new generation might start showing up for a band that included, say, Meg White, Ryan Adams and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger. But the possibilities are endless and fun to think about.)
(All photos by Maria Ives)