By Brian Ives
Ringo Starr has assembled impressive lineups of his fabled All-Starr Bands over the decades since staging his first post-Beatles tour in 1989. Some of the legendary musicians to call themselves All-Starrs include John Entwistle of the Who, Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, Joe Walsh of the Eagles and the James Gang, Jack Bruce of Cream, Shiela E. of Prince’s Revolution and Dr. John. But he’s never kept one lineup together for as long as he has his current incarnation.
Related: Is Ringo Starr Plotting a New Album?
Today’s All-Starrs include Gregg Rolie (a founding member of both Santana and Journey) who plays keyboards and sings; Steve Lukather (of Toto) plays guitar and sings, as does solo artist/super-producer Todd Rundgren. Richard Page of ’80s hitmakers Mr. Mister plays bass and sings. Session legends Gregg Bissonette (drums) and Warren Ham (saxophone, keyboards, percussion, vocals) round out the band. The group has been touring since 2012, over twice as long as any other All-Starr Band. And when they play live, it shows.
Last night they hit the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey, and thrilled the audience for nearly two hours of hits. Of course, Ringo was the centerpiece of the show, and rightfully so. On his own songs, he’d often play the frontman, away from his drum kit. He stepped out with the mic for his solo hits (“It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph”), his Beatles classics (“What Goes On,” “Yellow Submarine”) and some of the songs that he covered while in the Fab Four (“Matchbox”). He’s been a frontman for a quarter of a century now, and he knows exactly how to play the audience.
As much fun as it is to watch him at the front of the stage, there’s still a magic to seeing him behind the kit, where he spent much of the show. He was the drummer for a few of his own songs, and for almost all of the All-Starrs’. He took a break during Rolie’s “Black Magic Woman,” but could have vacated the stage for many more songs: after all, Bissonette is an excellent drummer. But it was pretty obvious that Ringo was having a blast playing on all of the other songs, and why not? The setlist included iconic hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
The highlights included all three Rolie/Santana songs: “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and “Evil Ways,” which allowed all the band members to stretch out instrumentally (Rolie must enjoy the fact that he also gets to play those songs with the reunited Santana who recently played their first few dates in decades.). Lukather’s run through Toto’s “Hold the Line” was one of the hardest rocking moments of the night, and Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum” (featuring Rundgren playing a single drum) was a blast. It should be mentioned that Rundgren isn’t just a great musician – he’s also a great entertainer. And like Starr, he still looks every bit the rock star.
On paper, Richard Page may have been the odd man out: his band Mr. Mister had their hits in the ’80s (everyone else’s were from the ’60s and ’70s), and they never really got play on rock radio. But most of the audience loved “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings.” What was more surprising was that a relatively unknown song, “You Are Mine,” from a solo album, went over well; Starr himself apparently requested it, and played cojon during the song.
And there’s a lesson there: yes, Ringo’s audiences tend to show up for the hits. But sometimes, a good song can work, whether it’s new or decades old. Perhaps for the next go-round, Ringo can replace “You’re Sixteen” or “I’m the Greatest” with (relatively) newer songs like “Never Without You” or “R U Ready?”
Or, given that this All-Starr Band is starting to look more and more like an actual band, maybe it’s time for them to hit the studio and add some newer collaborations to their repertoire.