Live Review: Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band at LA’s Greek Theatre (7/2)

The Beatles drummer lacks charm and leans too heavily on a dusty backing band

    For the last 15 years, there have only been two surviving Beatles. And while the live performances of Paul McCartney have become legendary, Ringo Starr has opted for a different sort of twilight era. Macca headlines festivals and performs at stadiums, and rightfully so. His sets hit on not only his Beatles songwriting, but his rich post-Beatles career. He even pays tribute to his old bandmates and fills the gaps between songs with stories of his heyday. Beyond having the tunes and the chops, Macca is an entertainer of the highest order. For a man that was a member of the greatest band ever, he still manages to do that distinction justice.

    Ringo Starr is a different beast. Armed with fewer classics on which he was either songwriter or vocalist, Starr’s live show isn’t a trot down Beatles memory lane. Yes, there are a handful of Beatles songs, including highlights “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Yellow Submarine”, both of which turned into massive sing-alongs at a packed Greek Theatre on Saturday night. Though he’s the drummer behind some of the most important and beloved rock and roll songs of all time, that fact is downplayed when seeing Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Frankly, it’s a bit of a bummer.


    Instead, fans get a healthy dose of the All-Starr Band. Boasting the likes of Todd Rundgren, Mr. Mister’s Richard Page, Toto’s Steve Lukather, and Santana’s Gregg Rolie, the setlist isn’t just peppered with contributions; it’s dominated by them. This means that Toto’s “Africa” gets a fun mid-set unveiling, but also that a dusty Rundgren slogs his way through “Bang the Drum All Day” and Page offers up the hokey original “You Are Mine”. Starr even left the stage completely for a far-too-long run through “Black Magic Woman” that would have felt comfortable at a county fair. It’s a schtick that Starr has been leading since the late-’80s, with band members rotating in and out. Ultimately, the quality of the All-Starr Band’s contributions are contingent on who has joined the drummer on the current tour, and in 2016, it’s more like Mark Teixeira than Mike Trout.


    Muddying matters is the fact that Starr isn’t a great bandleader. Between peace signs and mutterings of “peace and love,” Starr offers very little in terms of charm. Casual mentions of his relationship with John Lennon is the best fans get with regards to sentimentality, and as a whole Starr is comfortable sacrificing legacy for cringe-worthy jokes and prickly fan interactions. If you’re a Beatle and the best way you have to keep fans engaged is forcing them to chant your name, something is seriously wrong.


    Previous incarnations of Starr’s All-Starrs have included Joe Walsh, Sheila E, Dr. John, Billy Preston, and Levon Helm, and with that kind of crew behind him, highlighting their own past work would have made sense, or could even have been thrilling. But the fact that Starr was never meant to be in the spotlight coupled with a crew of musicians that are decades past their relevance raises the question as to why this is how Starr chooses to continue his career. Would recruiting a group that could sing some of McCartney and Lennon’s Beatles parts be worse? At least it would give people a chance to hear one of the legendary drummers in history play on the songs he helped create. That would be deserving of the extra “r” in “All-Starr.”

    It Don’t Come Easy
    What Goes On
    I Saw the Light
    Evil Ways
    Bang the Drum All Day
    Don’t Pass Me By
    Yellow Submarine
    Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen
    You’re Sixteen
    I’m the Greatest
    You Are Mine
    Oye como va
    I Wanna Be Your Man
    Love Is the Answer
    Broken Wings
    Hold the Line
    Act Naturally
    With a Little Help From My Friends
    Give Peace a Chance