Looking svelte and stylish and decades younger than his 77 years, Ringo Starr brought his All Starr Band to NJPAC on Nov. 16 for the final concert of their 2017 tour, and did what’s he’s always done best.
He made people happy.
No one ever mistook the former Richard Starkey for a great singer, just one whose deadpan nasal glumness could add character to a song. Almost all of his biggest hits bear co-writing credits from his famous friends. U.K. comic Jasper Carrott once joked that he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles, a quote that rang so true it wound up being attributed to both John and Paul. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never has a man done so much with so little for so many.
Because, let’s face it, everybody loves Ringo. And he knows it.
Ringo has been touring regularly with his All Starr Band since 1989, and probably using the same stage patter and jokes ever since. From the moment he bounded onstage, he was effusive, charismatic and corny. Still, the man looked great, in a dazzling tuxedo jacket over a pair of skinny jeans that would flatter a 16-year-old girl, and his voice hasn’t lost any of its trademark brio. He drums for about a quarter of the set, although it’s obvious Gregg Bissonette (who has played with David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani and many others) does the heavy lifting while Ringo smiles and flops his sticks up and down.
The current iteration of the All Starr Band concluded its sixth year together at this show. Long gone are the days when the lineup could actually live up to its billing, with people like Edgar Winter, Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton, Rick Derringer, Sheila E., Joe Walsh and E Street Band members Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons part of the party. These days, the less catchy “Ringo Starr & His Sexagenarian Journeymen” might be more apropos.
And that’s a real problem, since at least half of the two-hour concert consisted of Ringo’s band members playing hits from their own careers, interspersed with a predictable list of beloved Ringo tunes, most dating back to 1973’s Ringo or before. Over the course of the night, watching Ringo & His All Starr Band feels like being trapped on a long drive with a badly curated FM oldies station on the radio — and one that only plays extended mixes with elongated and lugubrious guitar, drum and keyboard solos, to boot.
Yes, you get to hear “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Back off Boogaloo,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Yellow Submarine,” “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Photograph.” And Ringo still loves his covers, dusting off “Matchbox,” “Act Naturally,” and “Boys” from his Beatles days and “You’re Sixteen” from his first hit solo album. But then his bandmates take their turns in the spotlight, and a substantial part of the evening consists of schmaltzy, over-arranged dreck from ’70s and ’80s rock radio that no sane adult that would ever want to hear again: Santana’s “Evil Ways,” “Toto’s “Africa” and “Hold the Line,” Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings,” a cheesy wedding band version of “Oye Como Va.” I loved it when Todd Rundgren sang his “I Saw the Light,” not so much when he forgot the lyrics and stumbled through “Love Is the Answer.”
Of course, the sold-out audience – best described as a multi-generational, monotone collection of diehard fans who clap on the one and the three – loved every minute of it.
With the exception of Rundgren – who kept goofily running around the stage with a wireless pick-up looking like he was having the time of his life – the band consisted of career musicians anchored to their instruments who played workmanlike if bromidic highlights of their résumés. You now all their bands even if you might have to Google their names to make the connections.
Besides Rundgren and Bissonette, the lineup featured Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey), Steve Lukather (Toto), Richard Page (Mr. Mister) and Warren Ham (Kansas, Toto). All still command a room; the vocals and musicianship throughout the night were peerless, and the sound was fantastic. Since it was the last night of the tour, Page was even allowed to spare us an extra Mr. Mister song and perform one of his recent compositions, “You Are Mine” (which sounded exactly what you’d expect from a member of Mr. Mister in 2017).
Ringo released an album in September called Give More Love; it went unmentioned, as did pretty much anything that happened after the ’70s.
Nostalgia is Ringo Starr’s business these days, and business is good.
Here is the show’s set list and, below that, a photo gallery and some videos.
“It Don’t Come Easy”
“What Goes On”
“I Saw The Light” (Rundgren)
“Evil Ways” (Rolie)
“Bang the Drum All Day” (Rundgren)
“Don’t Pass Me By”
“Black Magic Woman” (Rolie)
“Back off Boogaloo”
“You Are Mine” (Page)
“Oye Como Va” (Rolie)
“I Wanna Be Your Man”
“Love Is the Answer” (Rundgren)
“Broken Wings” (Page)
“Hold the Line” (Lukather)
“With a Little Help From My Friends”
“Give Peace a Chance” (ensemble)