Live Rock: Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band at the Greek Theatre

By Mike Finkelstein

On Saturday night Ringo Starr led his All Starr Band as they rocked the Greek Theater for two hours to a very enthusiastic audience.  The All Starr band is a project that the Beatles’ drummer began in 1989 and the current lineup is the eleventh different installment.  The format is simple: Assemble a front line of readily identifiable star quality rock musicians and then go on tour playing the best known songs from each personality.   Ringo plays drums or sings in front of the band and emcees the show, as it rotates through each featured performer.   Nearly every song the band played on Saturday night had been an FM radio staple at one time or another, which tended to make for a winsome set list.   And, of course, it’s always quite interesting to watch people with a definite musical approach of their own cover someone else’s material.

Ringo’s 2010 All Starr Band features guitarists Rick Derringer and Wally Palmer, bassist Richard Page, keyboardist Gary Wright, multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter and versatile drummer Gregg Bissonette.

It was a new perspective to watch Ringo stand onstage in front of the band rather than high atop the drum riser — the image we all have of him as a Beatle.  For a man of any age (he is now 70), he looked to be in fine shape although, as a front man, it appeared as though he needed his drums in front of him, since he couldn’t seem to stop moving his arms and legs with the rhythm.  Ringo’s movements, in fact, were a lot like those of a giddy teenager competing in his first talent show.  Espousing Love and Peace, he sang, danced, and swam his way through such Beatles and Ringo hits as “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph,” “Act Naturally,” and “With A Little Help From My Friends” with the crowd eating it up.

Derringer and Winter have played and worked together often over the years so they came to the band as a team of sorts, with their own musical chemistry.   Together they led the band through Derringer’s “Hang On Sloopy,” and “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” and Winter’s “Free Ride” and the monster hit “Frankenstein.”   The solos were crisp and true to the original, and with five voices available even the harmonies matched the recording.   Winter moved back and forth from saxophone to keyboards all night, even mid-song at times.  At the end of “Hoochie Koo” Derringer did a drawn out solo spot where he opened up his bag of quick tricks.   As a reminder of what a 70’s solo guitar spot sounded like it was right on.  But he also threw in some double tapping a la Eddie Van Halen and the shredding multitudes who followed him in rewriting the book of flash guitar technique during the 80’s and 90’s.  It was a potent reminder that, in terms of guitar playing, 1973 was a very long time ago.

Gary Wright began his career in a legendary but not tremendously successful band named Spooky Tooth, and then had a short but very successful time in the pop spotlight as a solo artist.   He performed the instantly recognizable hits “Dream Weaver” and “Love Is Alive” from his Dream Weaver album beautifully.   Both songs feature a sweet tenor vocal and Wright’s voice has not diminished over the years.   Though he sang standing with a keyboard strapped on, Edgar Winter played most of the fleshier parts of the song.   It’s always fun to see how to true to the originals players will aim for in playing covers.  In the tasty fashion one would expect from him, Winter had all the signature synthesizer parts accounted for.

Richard Page is best known for his work with the 80’s pop outfit Mr. Mister.   He performed their two big hits “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings.”    Ubiquitous as these songs became in their time, they have been given a rest over the years and they sounded vibrant on Saturday.  Page has a soaring tenor voice and he may have been the strongest singer on the stage Saturday night.   In his own words he was having a blast on the tour and it clearly showed as he bopped around the stage on bass.

Wally Palmer grew to fame in the 80’s with his band The Romantics.   He played rhythm guitar and harmonica and sang strong backups all night.  For his featured spots the band did “Talking in Your Sleep” and the huge crowd-pleasing retro hit “What I Like About You.”   The latter song — now a standard rock and roll dance tune — is one that every bar band must learn and then keep available in their back pocket.

Watching Ringo and his band of All Starrs play was a bit like watching a really good band in someone’s garage, playing a long string of familiar hits.   The vibe in the open air was as festive as  a house party, and the band was – as the name stated – a gang of all-stars.

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