The idea of an “All Starr” band almost seems like unnecessary padding when you’re talking about the main attraction, who just happens to be a former Beatle. But for nearly 30 years, Ringo Starr has brought peace and love to audiences worldwide with his unique traveling rock ’n’ roll revue that mixes his own songs, both solo and with the Beatles, with a rotating assortment of hits from his fellow bandmates. Last night at Hard Rock Live, the result was a surprisingly tightly constructed 24-song set that came in efficiently just under the two-hour mark.
You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
Yes, many of the Beatles songs were shorter, but it’s a set that also makes room for some stretched out jamming, as was the case with Gregg Rolie’s sprawling take on “Black Magic Woman” from his Santana days, a moment which featured extended solos from many of the band members, including a percussive duel between multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham and drummer Gregg Bissonette. Toto guitarist Steve Lukather leaned into Rolie, taking a soulful solo and at one point, embracing the former member of both Santana and Journey in a bear hug, pointing at Rolie and encouraging the crowd to give him some appreciation. Rolie’s own work on the Hammond organ was encouragement enough, his burbling swells an instant time travel trip back to the ‘70s.
The performance demonstrated the brotherhood that has been built with this current band. It’s clear watching them on stage the reverence that they share for each other, and of course, for their boss. “This guy is the reason that I’m playing music. He’s the reason that we’re all playing music,” Lukather noted early in the night.
Starr himself had the crowd in his pocket from the moment that he took the stage, generating a large amount of applause when he showed off the Cleveland Browns T-shirt he was wearing, later telling the fans that he had been in attendance at the game the previous night. “I feel blessed that I actually saw them win,” he told them, also responding to a shout from a member in the audience to add, “I see your Liverpool flag. They won too. But it’s a different game. The Americans — they carry the damn ball.”
We can carry the football talk forward to say that Starr, even surrounded by an impressive catalog of hits in the set list, carried the ball respectfully with his own career cross-section of hits and deeper cuts. The Carl Perkins standard “Matchbox,” which opened the show, had been an early Beatles staple, eventually making an appearance on 1964's Something New
. Starr took the lead vocal, just as he had on the original album. He then shifted things forward nearly a decade for “It Don’t Come Easy,” from his own 1973 Ringo
album. From there, the evening would continue to jump back and forth across the various eras.
“What Goes On,” from 1965’s Rubber Soul
, was the only composition credited to Lennon, McCartney and Starkey, Starr explained, smiling as he quipped that perhaps the order of the names on those credits should have been different.
Deeper cuts like that made the evening one which was not just nostalgic by the numbers. 10cc bassist Graham Gouldman, making his first Cleveland area appearance in a number of years, noted that “Dreadlock Holiday” had been a big hit nearly everywhere — except America. Men at Work’s Colin Hay referenced Gouldman’s comments a short time later, humorously telling the crowd, “This is a song that was a hit everywhere in the world, especially America!” as he introduced the classic “Down Under.”
“If you don’t know this song, you’re in the wrong venue — and you’re probably waiting for the Rolling Stones,” Starr joked, teasing the next song as the band broke into a bit of “Satisfaction.” He was right — every person in every seat did indeed know the Beatles classic “Yellow Submarine,” and they were more than happy to participate as directed and sing along, something that was consistent throughout the night. And it was a thrill to see Starr drumming and singing “I Wanna Be Your Man.” He has a particular sound and rhythm to his playing that has become instantly recognizable when you hear any of the many records he’s played on over the decades and getting to hear that same sound live really underlines the fact that you’re witnessing an important piece of living history. With Starr still touring at 78 years of age, even though he looks easily 20 years younger than that, it’s a moment that is not to be taken for granted.
By the time he wrapped up the night with a rousing and joyful performance of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” it was hard to not want to hit the rewind button and do it all again one more time. And hopefully, with a little luck, we’ll see Starr and his All-Starrs deliver on that wish in the near future.