Ringo at age 82: Peace, love, and fun. And rock ‘n’ roll. Right after “Octopus’s Garden” he asked if anyone in the audience was depressed. No one bit. That’s because, along with the peace, love and fun, there was an abundance of happiness. That, and rock ‘n’ roll. Of course.
Yes, Ringo is back on the road with his All Starr band. It’s a concept Ringo fell into quite a few years ago and it continues to work. It’s also the perfect format for the former Beatle. Ringo sang lead on nearly a dozen Beatles songs back in those days, and he had some post-Beatles hits, but would it be enough to carry an entire concert single handedly? Maybe. But wouldn’t it be more fun to throw in some other classic rock gems from the Beatles era and shortly after? Well, yeah!
From left, Edgar Winter, Warren Ham, Steve Lukather, Ringo, Greg Bissonette, Hamish Stuart, Colin Hay
So, the concept is to recruit about four musicians who had some hits in the 60s, 70s or even 80s and let them take turns playing some of their best stuff in between some Ringo songs. The result is not just the aforementioned fun and happiness, but for those of a certain age, a recreation of 70s and 80s rock radio along with all the memories and feelings that come with that.
Another aspect of the genius of the All Starr band concept is that it allows for an ever changing cast of supporting characters and thus an ever changing set list. I had seen Ringo and his All Starrs in 2014 and the 2023 permutation of the band had only one front-line holdover from that group: Steve Lukather of the band Toto. The others joining the 2023 band were Edgar Winter, Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band and Colin Hay of Men at Work. Rounding out the band were two others from the 2014 band: multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham and Greg Bissonette on drums.
Besides singing and playing drums, Ringo acted as the amiable emcee. For those who grew up with the Beatles, he’s like an old friend and it was great to see him looking good, cracking jokes, and singing and playing the drums. He was the same only Ringo. The show started with an early Beatles tune, “Matchbox,” written by rockabilly star Carl Perkins. Next was one of those post-Beatles hits, “It Don’t Come Easy.” He introduced the next song as the only one ever written by Lennon, McCartney and Starkey, “What Goes On” which was on Rubber Soul (Parlophone, 1965). He said he told the boys that the songwriting credits would look good if they said “Starkey/Lennon/McCartney.” Like he said, it was the only song written by those three.
Ringo was down at the front of the stage for those songs, but once those finished, he retired to the extra drum kit on stage turning the band into a two-drummer unit just like the Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers and he let his All Starrs take over. First up was Edgar Winter who had some hits in the 70s with his most successful album being They Only Come Out At Night (Epic 1972). The album included the hits “Free Ride” and the instrumental anthem “Frankenstein” (it’s a monster!). “Free Ride” was Winter’s first song of the night and brought him to the front of the stage
“Frankenstein” came midway through the set with an epic arrangement that featured, among other things, Winter on a set of timbales trading licks with Bissonette on his trap set. When he wasn’t working the timbales, Winter strapped on his portable keyboard, which, he explained, he invented so he could go out to the front of the stage like a guitarist and not be stuck behind a bank of synthesizers
Winter’s third song was “Johnny B. Goode” which he recently recorded on his Grammy winning album Brother Johnny (Quatro Valley Records, 2022). The album is a tribute to his brother and bluesman Johnny who passed away in 2014. It’s an elaborate double LP with extensive liner notes from Winter explaining how each cut was recorded, each with different players, and reminiscences of growing up with Johnny and how he was determined from an early age to be a rock and roll star. Tuesday night’s “Johnny B. Goode” was spirited and energetic and a fitting tribute to Brother Johnny.
After “Free Ride,” the spotlight swiveled to Steve Lukather of Toto. His first song of the evening was “Roseanna.” He also played “Africa” and, very near the end of the show, when the energy was peaking, “Hold the Line.” Lukather was the main guitarist of the evening. Stuart played bass mostly, but played guitar on his songs. Colin Hay played guitar throughout the evening and threw down a few solos, but mostly he was the rhythm guitarist. Lukather, on the other hand, ripped it up all night long with one blazing solo after another. I was able to go backstage at the 2014 show and I overheard him telling someone that it’s amazing what a few decades of practice will do for your guitar playing. Tuesday night, the results of all those years of practice were on full display.
The Average White Band had a few funk/soul/R&B (maybe a little disco-ish) hits in the early 70s. It was a sound that was definitely not Scottish. Yet that was the band’s home country. Most of their success was probably because they left the bagpipes out on the moors. Hamish Stuart was in the middle of AWB’s success, singing, playing guitar and bass. In the All Starr Band, he passed his bass to Lukather for “Pick Up the Pieces” so he could play the distinctive guitar figure from that tune. His other two entries for the evening were “Cut the Cake” and “Work To Do,” a song he explained that they picked up from the Isley Brothers. For these horn-inflected funk tunes, Ham came down front with his tenor sax and Winter picked up his alto and they recreated those danceable horn lines from half a century ago.
Colin Hay’s Australian band, Men At Work, came and went pretty quickly in the early 80s, but generated a few distinctive hits and educated their Northern Hemisphere fans on the meaning of the word “vegemite.” Their first album in particular, Business As Usual (Columbia, 1982) spawned several hits and Hay came out of the gate on Tuesday night with one of those, “Down Under.” The band had hit the scene at the beginning of the “New Wave” movement and they fit that mold with ample energy and sometimes quirky guitar parts, but it was Hay’s distinctive vocals that gave the band its signature sound. Tuesday night, Hay’s voice sounded great and was another time machine rocketing those that remembered these songs from when they were radio hits, back several decades. Hay’s second entrée was “Overkill,” a minor hit from the band’s second album Cargo (Columbia, 1983). The band’s biggest hit was “Who Can it Be Now.” This one came late in the set and helped build the energy level.
From left, Bissonette, Stuart, Hay
After each All Starr played one of his hits, Ringo jumped back in the spotlight to sing a few of his songs. Many were Beatles tunes like everybody’s favorite sing-along, “Yellow Submarine” or the aforementioned “Octopus’s Garden.” There were also some more post-Beatles tunes like “Photograph” and “Backoff Boogaloo.” In 2022, Ringo released EP3 with four songs, but for this show, he stuck to the tried and true. He closed the show with a medley of sorts, “With a Little Help From My Friends” (which, in this case, was an obvious reference to his current bandmates) and Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” which is one of Ringo’s recurring themes
The fact that Ringo is still out there, over 50 years after the breakup of the Beatles, making music and spreading his message of peace and love (and fun and happiness) is nothing less than a pure delight. His bandmates and much of his audience are getting up there in years and his energy and attitude are inspirational.
It Don’t Come Easy
What Goes On
Pick Up the Pieces
I’m the Greatest
Cut the Cake
Work to Do
I Wanna Be Your Man
Johnny B. Goode
Who Can It Be Now
Hold the Line
Help From My Friends/Give Peace a Chance
Ringo, leader, peace, love, fun, vocals, drums
Edgar Winter, vocals, keyboards, alto sax
Steve Lukather, vocals, guitars, bass
Hamish Stuart, vocals, bass, guitar
Colin Hay, vocals, guitars
Warren Ham, vocals, tenor sax, flute, harmonica, keyboards, percussion
Greg Bissonette, drums, vocals
Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band
June 6, 2023
Bellco Theater, Denver
By Geoff Anderson
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