Sunday, June 29, 2014

And the Beatle Goes On: With a Little Help From His Friends, Ringo Remains a Crowd-Pleasing Starr -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band
Chicago Theatre
June 28, 2014

Ringo Starr has been doing largely the same thing for a rather long time.

I don't merely mean that he's been a rock 'n roll drummer and occasional singer for 55 years, first--as he wryly noted at a sold-out Chicago Theatre on Saturday night--with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, then of course with the Beatles, since which he's released several solo albums (on which he's done considerably more singing).

It has now been 25 years since Ringo embarked on first tour with an "All Starr Band," and he's performed such shows in 16 of those years (on 13 tours; details on Wikipedia)

I didn't see that first All Starr outing--which featured Joe Walsh, Dr. John, Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemons, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Billy Preston and Jim Keltner--but bought the CD documenting it.

Though the names--besides the man born Richard Starkey--have changed, the playbook has remained much the same. Ringo typically sings lead on about half of 25 or so songs, and lets the All Starrs with him play 2-3 of their most famous songs, depending on the depth of the roster.

While the foremost of Ringo's famous songs with and following the Beatles are pretty much givens--"Yellow Submarine," "Boys," "It Don't Come Easy," "Photograph," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "Act Naturally," "With a Little Help From My Friends"--others slip in and out from tour to tour.

I had seen Ringo's All Starr show just once before, at the Rosemont Theatre in 2001--where his mates included Ian Hunter, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Greg Lake, Howard Jones and Sheila E--and haven't felt a great need to revisit him on subsequent tours.

But as with most of my prime rock heroes, Ringo is no longer a spring chicken--he turns 74 on July 7--and with the music I most love no longer sufficiently regenerating itself, I felt particularly compelled to get a pair of cheap tickets when Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band were booked into the wondrous Chicago Theatre.

Not knowing who the other players would be until just a few days ago, and not all that instantly enamored when I learned the lineup, I entered--accompanied by my friend Dave and another friend who sat separately--excited to see Ringo but with somewhat muted expectations.

Beginning exactly at the 8:00pm start time printed on the ticket, Ringo opened with Carl Perkins' "Matchbox," which he had sung with the Beatles, and then his own "It Don't Come Easy," a top 10 hit from 1971.

You can see the full setlist on, but all the standard "Ringo songs" I mentioned above were played, along with two nice cuts--"Wings" and "Anthem"--from his solid Ringo 2012 album.

Left out were "Back Off Boogaloo" (to Dave's dismay), "You're Sixteen," the "No No Song" and "Octopus's Garden," the latter which, oddly, doesn't look like it's ever been included in All Starr sets.

Any concert that enables me to sing along with a Beatle on "Yellow Submarine," "With a Little Help From My Friends" and other gems will automatically be rather mirthful, but what made this show especially superlative were the contributions of the rest of the All-Starr Band, both in backing Ringo and in playing their own songs.

Almost all were returning All Starrs from recent years and/or beyond, with the biggest name likely being Todd Rundgren.

Serving primarily as rhythm guitarist, Rundgren sang "I Saw the Light" from his 1972 masterpiece Something/Anything, revved up the crowd with "Bang the Drum All Day" and went with Utopia's "Love is the Answer" for his third turn in the spotlight.

I would have preferred "Hello It's Me" instead of the latter, or even in addition as Rundgren's songs were notably shorter than those of his cohorts.

But though I was familiar with the names Gregg Rolie and Steve Lukather coming in, I was considerably more impressed by the end of the 2-hour show.

Rolie is a keyboardist who was a primary vocalist in the early days of Santana, and also the first singer of Journey. Adding nice piano touches throughout the evening, he dazzled in delivering three Santana songs: "Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" and "Oye como va" (written by Tito Puente).

If you're thinking "How good could Santana songs sound without Carlos?" not only did Rolie well-replicate his original vocals, and the All Starr Band of longtime professional musicians--including drummer Gregg Bissonette and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham--performed the Latin soundscapes with considerable panache, lead guitarist Steve Lukather was superb in handling the Carlos Santana solos (and others throughout the evening).

Lukather is a top-tier studio musician who hit it big with Toto, and accompanied by Ham singing the high
notes, he delivered satisfying versions of "Rosanna," "Africa" and "Hold the Line."

Rounding things out was bassist Richard Page, best-known for fronting Mr. Mister.

Though not my favorite '80s band by far, they had two straight #1 singles--"Broken Wings" and "Kyrie"--which Page delivered in fine voice on Saturday night. He also sang a new song he recently wrote in Nashville, called "You Are Mine," which didn't detract even among a setlist of relative classics.

In their stage manner and patter, Rundgren, Rollie, Lukather and Page--who have likely known each other for years from the studio, touring and L.A. circuit--all seemed genuinely happy to be accompanying Ringo, who also was verbally gracious to his bandmates and the crowd.

As such, what could have felt like a bunch of old hands recycling a well-worn playbook and rehashing past glories instead had a really nice vibe and came off endearingly fresh.

I would have liked if the show occasionally went off-script--though musically strong, it felt a bit more like a revue than a concert--with perhaps Starr or one of his American All Starrs noting 2014 being the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first coming to America...and Chicago.

But at this point, Ringo certainly knows how to put on a crowd-pleasing show. And, to his credit, he doesn't look or sound markedly different than I remember from 13 years ago (he was even doing jumping jacks at show's end).

So, after a brief run through "Give Peace A Chance" followed "With A Little Help From My Friends" out the door--at pretty much 10:00pm on the nose--I would guess most in attendance went home quite happily, like me, to their yellow submarines.

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