The backbeat isn’t what it used to be. He needs another drummer to do the heavy lifting. But every time 71-year-old Ringo Starr sits behind that drum kit, a charge goes through the room.
There are only two Beatles left. One of them is right there in front of you. He could play solitaire for two hours and fans would still line up.
For the third straight time, he chose Niagara Falls to kick off his Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band tour Thursday. He’s getting so comfortable here, he’s even riffing on current events: Before introducing a Beatles classic at the end of the night, he ribbed the audience “If you don’t know the words to this one, you’re at the wrong venue! You think it’s the tightrope guy!”
If Starr’s miffed that Friday’s second show was rescheduled to accommodate Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk (changed from 9 p.m. to 7 p.m.), he got his point across with humour, as always.
“Are you kidding me with the harness? I could go across.”
A night of ‘peace and love’ … and poking fun.
Oh, and some great tunes. If it’s one thing Starr’s handpicked bands can do, it’s work up a crowd. He jokes the criteria to join is simply have a hit in the past century, but it goes deeper than that: These are proven, professional musicians who’ve all enjoyed some time at the top, and now just love to jam.
This year’s edition includes Santana and Journey cofounder Gregg Rolie, Toto’s Steve Lukather, and returning members Todd Rundgren and Mr. Mister’s Richard Page. Providing crucial support is journeyman Mark Rivera on sax/keyboards/clarinet and seasoned drummer Gregg Bissonette, who is truly the show’s MVP. Even Ringo bows to him.
As always, the Beatles fans came out in drives, and I can assure you: These people are serious about their Fab Four. Rudy Vervaet of Port Dover bought one of Starr’s autographed prints at a previous show ($500), and also owns a limited edition Abbey Road statue signed by Starr. Despite Ringo’s policy of not signing autographs anymore, he brought along a mint copy of his 1983 album Old Wave.
“You hold it up, you might get a chance,” he said, browsing Starr’s t-shirt booth before the show.
The show’s format hasn’t budged since the first All-Starr band tour in ‘89: Ringo plays a mix of his solo and Beatles hits, then gives the spotlight to each band member for two or three songs. It’s like watching a great mix tape come alive on stage.
Starr kicked things off Thursday with an opening trio of the Carl Perkins nugget Matchbox, his own #1 hit It Don’t Come Easy, and the reggae-flavoured Wings off his most recent disc, Ringo 2012.
From there the band took the reins and the highlights began. Rundgren was a bit loose and ragged on Hello, It’s Me, but Rolie’s Evil Ways got the first standing ovation of the night. The band appeared to still be finding its footing on Lukather’s Rosanna, though Page’s Mr. Mister smash Kyrie was a stunner, just like last time.
Starr then gave Beatles fans what they came for: A killer stretch of Don’t Pass Me By (“the first song I wrote”), Yellow Submarine, and the still infectiousBoys, which he introduced as “a song I used to do with the other band I was in … Rory Storm and the Hurricanes!”
There were a few stumbles: Starr’s new song Anthem is a groaner, and of all the stuff from his solo albums he could play, the hokey I’m the Greatest(written for him by John Lennon, but still …) kills the show’s momentum.
Page’s new song You Are Mine was well-received, as was the timelessBroken Wings near the end of the show. Lukather worked the crowd up again for Hold the Line – Toto’s first hit – setting the stage for Starr to send fans home happy with Photograph, Act Naturally and With a Little Help From My Friends, which once again ends with a chorus of Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance.
Compared to the 2010 show, it rocked less (that one had Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter and The Romantics’ Wally Palmer), but it certainly had the bigger hits – six #1 singles were doled out. You also get the surreal image of Todd Rundgren playing Toto’s ‘80s smash Africa, with Ringo Starr bopping along in the background.
As spectacles go, I’ll take that over a wirewalker any day.
It Don’t Come Easy (Starr)
Hello, It’s Me (Rundgren)
Evil Ways (Rolie)
Don’t Pass Me By (Starr)
Bang the Drum All Day (Rundgren)
Yello Submarine (Starr)
Black Magic Woman (Rolie)
I’m the Greatest (Starr)
You Are Mine (Page)
Everybody’s Everything (Rolie)
I Wanna Be Your Man (Starr)
I Saw the Light (Rundgren)
Broken Wings (Page)
Hold the Line (Lukather)
Act Naturally (Starr)
With a Little Help From My Friends (Starr)
Ringo Starr played to a packed Niagara Fallsview Casino to kick off his 2012 tour Thursday. PHOTO: Matt Day, The Review