Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band set up shop at the INB Performing Arts Center on Sunday and, in two hours and some change, blasted through an odd mix of songs that had no business working, but somehow did.
Starr, as he’s done since 1989, has gathered some talented friends and headed on the road. The format is simple: Starr performs tunes from his past – hits and songs recorded with the Beatles – and his bandmates get the same consideration. So we hear “Yellow Submarine” followed up by “Black Magic Woman,” and “Hold the Line” leading into “Photograph.”
In my head, I know there’s no way this set list should work. Seeing it performed live? It totally works.
What makes it work? The musicians performing them are deeply talented: singer-guitarist Todd Rundgren, singer-guitarist Steve Lukather (Toto), Gregg Rolie (Santana) on the organ, singer-bassist Richard Page (Mr. Mister), with sax and additional keyboards from Warren Ham (Kansas, Badfinger) and drums from Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth, Steve Vai). It was clear Sunday night that after nearly five years as All-Starrs, this group still likes playing together.
Of course, Starr is the star. The 76-year-old ex-Beatle bounded on the stage, appearing fit and healthy and ready to rock. He kicked off the show with “Matchbox,” a Carl Perkins tune the Beatles covered in their early days. It has a ’50s rockabilly vibe that set the right tone. He followed up with his 1971 solo hit, “It Don’t Come Easy.” Then there was “What Goes On,” from “Rubber Soul.”
Starr then headed back to the drum kit, where he bobbed his head in true Ringo fashion and backed up his friends. Rundgren sang “I Saw the Light,” Rolie led the band in “Evil Ways,” while Lukather took the lead for “Rosanna.” (Much to the delight of many in the audience. Seems there were a lot of Toto fans in the house.)
Then Page took the mic for the 1980s hit “Kyrie,” followed by Rundgren and “Bang the Drum all Day.”
Starr, singing from the drum kit, took lead vocal duties on “Boys,” a rockin’ old Shirelles tune he performed with the Beatles and his previous band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Then it was to the front of the stage for energetic performances of “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Yellow Submarine,” both as fun as you’d expect them to be.
Starr then took a break as the band launched into a terrific and extended version of “Black Magic Woman.” He was back in short order for delightful versions of “You’re Sixteen, You’re Beautiful (and You’re Mine)” and “Back Off Boogaloo.”
The All-Starr Band packed 25 songs into a little more than two-hour set. There wasn’t too much banter, but Starr cracked a joke or two. At one point, he asked all the women in the audience to cheer. “I just like to hear the screams,” he said. “It’s memories.”
The show really was like a roadshow celebrating the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, as most of the songs – save the Page single “You Are Mine” – are recognizable to anyone who’s listened to pop radio in the past 50 years. From the crowd-pleasing Toto hits “Africa” and “Hold the Line,” and a fun, funky version of the Tito Puente song (popularized by Santana) “Oye Como Va,” the Utopia song “Love Is the Answer,” and Mr. Mister’s No. 1 hit “Broken Wings,” the second half was a hit parade.
Of course the end was all Ringo. He led the band through a lovely and lively version of “Photograph,” the No. 1 hit he co-wrote with George Harrison. “Act Naturally,” the Buck Owens song the Beatles recorded in 1965, was country-tinged and fun. Then there was “With a Little Help From My Friends,” the Beatles classic that brought the crowd to its feet, where they stood as the show wrapped up with the Plastic Ono Band song “Give Peace a Chance.”
Throughout the show, Starr displayed a voice that seems undiminished by age. He was amiable and energetic. And watching him work the drum kit was a wonder. It’s not every day that an ex-Beatle comes to town. Glad I got to see this one.