16 July 2008

Show: Ringo and Friends

Originally uploaded by talented flickr user Leo Reynolds.
Used under a Creative Commons license.
You've got to love Ringo Starr. Seriously. He insists on it. But don't worry that things will be one-sided. Oh, no. The 68-year-old former Beatle loves you right back. Seriously.

Ringo and his All Star Band brought the 2008 incarnation of the Peace & Love Tour to Chicago's Charter One Pavilion on a beautiful summer evening (last Sunday) riding a groovy wave of audience love. The concert may as well have been staged on Ringo's lawn. This was the first time I'd seen Ringo live, but I was clearly in the minority. Tee shirts from Peace & Love Tours as far back as 1999 were sported on many a proud middle-aged torso.

It's a testament to the power of Ringo's personality and reputation that he can front a band composed of people known for fronting bands and do it with such casual grace. It's not bursting any bubbles to say that Ringo is not a dynamic live performer. But he doesn't have to be. He's Ringo, after all, one of the last remnants of that golden, pre-InterWeb age of Superstardom. It's a status that he's all the more deserving of because he doesn't seem a bit concerned by it. The first song of the evening -- "It Don't Come Easy" -- could have been a gentle reminder that there was cost to being Ringo, but if so we were all too beered up and blissed out to take the hint.

It's also a testament to Ringo's self-assessment that, despite recently putting out a solo album (the nostalgia-tinged Liverpool 8 - video), he bypassed the solo tour option in favor of another All-Star expedition. Even Ringo knows that it could be hard to draw a crowd for just Ringo. Plus, why not bring your friends along for the ride?

The All-Star lineup changes from tour to tour, even from date to date. The crew I saw was comprised of Colin Hay (Men at Work) and Billy Squire ("The Stroke," etc.) on guitars; Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) on electric bass mostly; Gary Wright ("Dreamweaver") on keyboards; Edgar Winter on keyboards, percussion and sax, and Gregg Bissonette (Santana, ELO, Joe Satriani, etc.) on drums. (Ringo's Ludwig drum kit had pride of place at center stage, but he sat behind it less than half the time, generally letting the terrific Bissonette shoulder the rhythm load.)

The mix speaks to Ringo's magnanimity but it also kept what could easily have been An Evening with the Old Farts into a eclectic and satisfying musical experience. After three quick numbers with Ringo out front, ("five minutes to love me") they proceeded to "go around the band," as Ringo put it, with each performer taking the spotlight for a song before introducing someone else. Both Hay and Squire also performed solo acoustic numbers. Ringo disappeared backstage for a few numbers, presumably for a quick kip and a nice sandwich.

Colin Hay's solo show at the 300-seat Lakeshore Theater in May was a thoroughly charming and delightful experience, but his presence was muted in this larger setting where he was largely consigned to rhythm guitar. (Coincidentally, one shared theme of both that show and this one was smacktalk about Sting. Introducing "Yellow Submarine," Ringo announced, "If you don't know this song your probably at the wrong venue," adding under his breath, "you're probably here to see Sting." This was greeted by guffaws from everyone on stage.)

Although all the players were in fine form, especially for a lazy summer night, Billy Squire and Edgar Winter really stood out. I admit to not having given a thought to Billy Squire since I was in high school, so it wouldn't have occurred to me that he'd have great chops. In addition to doing great work on his spotlight numbers, he contributed solid lead guitar work on everything from rock to country to blues and even played bass on "Pick up the Pieces."

And then there was Edgar Winter, who seemed to be enjoying himself more than anybody. He's still every bit the freakazoid mystic depicted on his classic album covers, only grown more Gandalf-like with the passing years. I got the impression the rest of the band got to Chicago by plane, while Winter had dinner with Sun Ra on an astral plane and then arrived at the gig by spaceship.

Still, he proved to be an excellent sideman whether it was keyboards or one of his silver saxes. He was a little late joining the ensemble on "Who Can it Be Now?" and then got so into it that he prowled the stage like something out of Jim Henson's Creature Shop. His second turn in the spotlight, a Ringo-less "Frankenstein" (check out the video from 1973) was the evening's showstopper, provoking great jazz-like combo work from Hay, Squire and Bissonette. Ringo, returning to the stage, declared, "That's what I'm talking about!" It was indeed.

Winter goes on tour later this year in support of a new solo album, so expect to hear multiple reports of a wild-haired Wildman loose in the land.

After the 24th number ("Oh My My"), Ringo announced that rather than going back to hide in the dark ("I know it's tradition, but I just don't see the point"), the band was going to move forward with the encore. And just to keep things off balance, he called "special guest" Richard Marx to the stage to help with the obligatory "With a Little Help from My Friends." He then kicked off John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," which also gave him a chance to disappear back stage and presumably into a waiting limo.

Did we mind? Of course not. He's Ringo, after all.


Set List (Ringo lead unless otherwise noted)
It Don't Come Easy
What Goes On?
Memphis In Your Mind
Lonely is The Night (Billy Squire)
Free Ride (Edgar Winter)
Down Under (Colin Hay)
Dreamweaver (Gary Wright)
Pick Up the Pieces (Hamish Stuart)
Liverpool 8
Act Naturally
Yellow Submarine
Are You Lookin at Me? (Hay - solo)
In the Dark (Squire - solo)
Frankenstein (Winter)
Never Without You
Choose Love
The Stroke (Squire)
Work To Do (Hamish Stuart)
I Wanna Be Your Man
Love is Alive (Wright)
Who Can It Be Now? (Hay)
Oh My My
With a Little Help from My Friends
Give Peace a Chance

IterWeb bonus
Ringo snaps at Larry King a few days before the show (for mentioning his age 12 times).

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