Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band
July 3, 2008
Seminole Hard Rock, Hollywood
By now, the traveling nostalgia show that tours annually under the banner of Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band has been honed to a tee. Ringo offers up his best-known Beatles songs and solo hits and generously allows various All Starrs to add two or three individual selections to the heaping of musical memories. With the format down pat, there’s little variation execution-wise from past All Starr outings, the only variable being a revolving cast of retro rockers and their influence on the set list.
Of course, Ringo has always been more a personality and entertainer than a real musical wunderkind. There’s no mistaking a Ringo show for the Second Coming of the Fab Four. Still, it ought to be remembered that following the Beatles’ break-up, it was their unassuming drummer that initially stacked up the biggest bounty of hits. And here at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, as he makes a rare, if abbreviated pre-show appearance, touting his art and admiring a birthday cake that ultimately goes untouched (Starr turns 68 on July 7), you can’t help but admire the guy’s amiable, affable persona, a trait that accounts for his enduring appeal among Beatle devotees.
Sadly, that pre-show opportunity to meet Ringo in his Hard Rock art exhibit environs turns out to be fleeting at best, as Ringo and a large contingent of burly security people sweep into a cordoned off alcove, moving quickly past an elite group who had paid nearly $3,000 apiece under the assumption they were attending a personal meet-and-greet, then past a cluster fuck of assembled press and paparazzi, into the exhibit area and out just as quickly. The entire event seemed to last less than five minutes, although finding one’s self in the presence of an honest to god authentic Beatle still had us swooning from his Starr – er, sorry – star-like aura.
(Us, attempting to get in a question: “Ringo, what got you involved in art?
Ringo: “I do it on the road… on my computer.”
Us, desperate for a follow-up: “So what can we expect from the concert tonight?”
Ringo: “It’s a really great show!”)
And then he’s gone, whisked away as quickly as he arrived, past the guests who got Ringo art, concert tix and meager hor ‘dourves in place of face time, past a burgeoning crowd of common folk desperately yelling his name in an attempt to get his attention, past the reporters and photogs hoping for comment. From our vantage point, pressed among the other press, we note the fact he’s short but surprisingly youthful looking for a man whose age might otherwise dictate more geriatric pursuits. And yes, up close and semi-personal, he definitely still possesses the bearing a Beatle.
We take Ringo at his word that the show will be great; after all, with all the hit potential the various players bring to the table, the odds are already stacked in his favor. So indeed, when the show starts promptly at its announced time of 8 p.m., Ringo appears primed from the get-go, beaming his effusive good vibes, playing the perfect ringmaster and all-round showman, the genial host and common bond that holds these disparate personalities together. Indeed, if there’s anything consistent about the All-Starr MO, it’s its very inconsistency. The musical sounds and styles these individual players bring to the party seem to have little in common, even if bundled in the common berth of a broad top 40-friendly format.
Despite a seamless team effort given to each individual’s offerings, the All Starr roster seems to have coasted downhill in terms of A-list personalities at least compared to the initial line-ups Ringo would enlist for his retro regalia. Previous All Starr configurations included some genuine big names of near legendary stature – Cream’s Jack Bruce, the Who’s John Entwistle, the Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmidt, E Street regulars Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemmons, the irrepressible Todd Rungren and Joe Walsh, keyboard greats Billy Preston and Dr. John… not to mention various expatriates from classic oldie bands like Procol Harum, the Rascals, and the Guess Who. By comparison, the current crew draws mostly second-string players. While ex Average White Band member Hamish Stuart and Gary Wright can each claim Ringo as their second Beatle buddy (having previously played with Paul and George respectively), Billy Squier, Edgar Winter and Colin Hay (of Men at Work) probably owe Ringo some debt of gratitude for their current employment, being that none of them has had a hit in at least the past quarter century.
As for Ringo himself, he emits an inextinguishable flurry of enthusiasm, while genuinely appearing to be having a good time. Svelte and stylish in a shiny silver jacket, white tuxedo shirt and black jeans, he shares quips with the crowd, tossing off seemingly extemporaneous observations in response to the more enthusiastic members of the audience while also offering a fair amount of self-effacing commentary. Introducing the title track of his current LP, Liverpool 8, he jokes he probably has more copies stashed at home than the amount purchased by those in this house. His drums, he notes, are likely older than many of the attendees (although based on what we believe to be the average age of the crowd, we’d dispute that notion). And as the show winds down, he explains that there’s no need to play out the silly rock ritual involving an encore. “You know we’re coming back. We know we’re coming back. So what’s the point?”
The only patter that becomes truly tiresome is the portion that’s become most patented, specifically Ringo’s constant exhorting of the audience by asking, “What’s my name?!” The obvious ego boost is all but admitted when he responds early on,” I don’t know about you, but I feel really good.” Good for you, Ringo, but we paid our homage by coughing up our hard-earned dollars. So shelve it already.
That said, there is opportunity for the audience to feel the spirit of celebration. Ringo can rightly claim to have pop’s most infectious tailor-made sing-along songs in his repertoire, courtesy of “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help From My Friends,” both of which are concert staples. However, most of the selections draw more from his spotlight cameos with the fabs than from his bulging solo catalogue, forcing the emission of several songs the fans might otherwise expect. No “No No Song.” No “I’m the Greatest.” No “Back Off Booglaoo.” Happily, Ringo more than satisfies with “Photograph,” It Don’t Come Easy” and a double dose of his more country-oriented songs, “Act Naturally” and “What Goes On.” It ought to be noted that even early on, Ringo demonstrated his affinity for American music, and he’s never lost his ability to emulate a down home sound.
Due to his generosity towards his backing band, Ringo cedes half his stage time to the other players, leaving them a sizable chunk of time to regurgitate golden oldies that still sound stale even by jukebox standards. C’mon, do we really need more “Frankenstein,” “Dream Weaver,” “Who Can It Be Now,” “Picking Up the Pieces” or “Free Ride?” Some shared spotlight time is a given, but Wright and Squier’s solo spots could likely have excised in favor of letting their boss offer more material. While those individual offerings provided a good excuse to let Ringo work out behind his drum kit, the seemingly endless hit parade weighed down the proceedings and often made parts of the show feel anticlimactic.
Still, Ringo is all about the peace and love, so his good intentions appear to be genuinely driven. He even closed with a version of “Give Peace a Chance” as if to drive home the fact he’s still infatuated with those ‘60s sentiments. So rock on, Ringo; this full-function flashback is always worth a revisit.
Personal bias: Ringo is all about the shtick and schmaltz, but then again he was the loveable Beatle, wasn’t he?
Random detail: With the exception of Edgar Winter, the current incarnation of All Stars are decidedly challenged as far as their manes are concerned.
By the way: Ringo told one interviewer he doesn’t perform “Yellow Submarine” and “Octopus’ Garden” in the same show. Why? He said there’s no need for two underwater songs in the same set.
– Lee Zimmerman