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Ringo Starr

Live in Los Angeles, August, 2008

Review by Michael Bader

Critics refer to him as the “luckiest man in the world.” Most fans fondly call him “a Beatle,” but Ringo Starr is the rhythmic backbone of one of the greatest bands ever and he has played the role of diplomat for several decades now.

History shows that the Beatles dealings with the media dramatically improved once the fab four replaced Pete Best with Richard Starkey behind the set. He was a natural with the media, funny, fluid, light hearted and down to earth. To this day, interviews with Ringo Starr are more like chatting with an old friend than sitting with one of the most influential talents in rock n’ roll.

For the past 20 years, Starr has united some of the greatest musical talents for concert tours which reminisce of the 50’s & 60’s musical showcases that traveled the States. His All-Starr Bands have included notable musicians with long standing backgrounds in rock music.

The best lineup of music and musicians for the All-Starr band occurred in 1995 when Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, John Entwistle both members of the Who, Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad fame, journeymen keyboardist Billy Preston & journeyman sax Mark Rivera and Randy Bachman of BTO fame filled the stage.  In 1999, the All-Starr lineup contained Gary Brooker of Procol Harum, Jack Bruce of Cream, journeyman sax player Timmy Cappello, Simon Kirke of Bad Company and Todd Rundgren of Utopia.  In 2001, it was Greg Lake of King Crimson/ELP, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople, keyboardist Howard Jones and Mark Rivera set the stage.

 
On August 2, 2008, Ringo’s 2008 road show line-up rolled into Los Angeles for the final stop of their North American tour. Rest assured that Starr’s performance and song selections showed great heart and much soul this time around. This year’s line-up included Colin Hay on guitar, Hamish Stuart on bass & horns, Billy Squier on guitar, Gary Wright on keyboards and Edgar Winter on keyboards/sax.

Colin Hay played guitar and performed his Men at Work classics “Who Can It Be Now” and “Land Down Under.” Gary Wright of Spooky Tooth fame performed “My Love is Alive” and the title track from his Dreamweaver album.

Unfamiliar with Hamish Stuart, we find his resume includes work with Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Paul McCartney, George Benson and David Sanborn after his membership with Average White Band came to an end in 1982. That explains why “Pick up the Pieces” and the Isley Brothers “Work to Do” found their way into this plethora of music.

     

Billy Squier’s and Edgar Winter’s careers needs little introduction as “Lonely is the Night,” “The Stroke,” “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein” were obvious pieces included in the set list. It was sad to watch Winter struggle with his equipment during the keyboard solos in “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein.” Gary Wright stepped up to fill the keyboard solo during the equipment failure during “Frankenstein” and Winter switched to sax during “Free Ride.” Winter did provide outstanding saxophone solos throughout the evening, especially during Squier’s “Lonely” and AWB’s “Pieces.”

We can debate the things Ringo Starr is not but what he is continues to unite and inspire the rock community. Despite being sought out by fans and musicians alike, he makes the effort to connect with other musicians more than any of his Beatle counterparts have in their lifetimes. His peers constantly hold him in high regard, not only as a musician and ex-Beatle, but as a good person and close friend. We should all be so blessed. 

Fresh off his February 2008 release, Liverpool 8, Starr performed the title track that he co-wrote with co-producer/musician Dave Stewart. It is a refreshing piece, nostalgically reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s “Flaming Pie,” about finding peace in familiar surroundings. What was refreshing about Starr’s performance was the variety of musical pieces he selected for this performance. In past tours, you could expect to hear the standard Ringo Starr hits played like clockwork. However this evening, songs like the “No-No song,” “Honey Don’t” and “You’re Sixteen” were nowhere to be found. Instead they were replaced with the rarely heard tunes “What Goes On,” “Memphis in My Mind,” “Choose Love,” “Never Without You (George),” “Oh My My,” and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” It was very refreshing!

This isn’t to say that we didn’t hear the classics like “A Little Help from My Friends,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Boys,” “Act Naturally,” “Phonograph” and “Be Your Man.” These song selections are a worthy compromise, despite “Yellow Submarine” being thrown into the mix. It would be nice to attend a concert where the extremely overplayed songs were omitted from the set lists in favor of high quality, less common pieces.

Unlike past tours where Starr’s son, Zack Starkey would support him on drums, 2008 found an unheralded talent in Gregg Bissonette in that roll. Bissonette’s past contributions include memberships with Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, David Lee Roth, Don Henley, Toto and Carlos Santana. Bissonette is a great drummer and the chemistry between Starr and himself was tremendous.

In another change from tradition, the stage set, props and more sophisticated lighting were a part of this tour. The stage crew found creative lighting uses for the large reflective star backdrop. At some points in the show, three dimensional star images were projected onto the star giving a unique shadow effect to the stage setting. Upon a closer look after the show, it was impossible to see how they created this effect.

It was surprising that the Greek Theatre was not filled with baby booming retirees. Instead, the generations after showed up in droves. Taking the opportunity to ask why they came to see the balding Beatle, the overwhelming response was “I’ve always wanted to see a Beatle.” It was great to see all the smiling faces at the end of the show. A 25 song set list is something one could expect of an ex-Beatles’ show - albeit most of the hits were short and sweet. With their biological clocks ticking, time is short to catch your chance at experiencing the aura of the impact of one of the remaining Beatles.

     
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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