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 Ringo Starr All Star Band 

by Anthony Kuzminski 

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Ringo Starr & The All Star Band: With A Little Help From His Friends
Rosemont Theater
Saturday June 17, 2006

Since 1989 Ringo Starr has brought audiences around the world a distinct, diversified and multifaceted show filled with multi-talented musicians. While other artists rest on their laurels and their legacy, Ringo hits the road year after year and continues to bring the magic of rock n' roll to each town. Amazingly, I had never seen an All Star Band tour until recently but the stars aligned this time and I found myself in the Rosemont Theater with 4,500 other blessed souls to see one of the most legendary musicians of the rock n' roll era. 

Before I start reviewing the show, I need to bring up something that has always bothered me; the lack of respect Ringo tends to receive. He may have written the fewest songs of any Beatle, but without Ringo there would be no Beatles. It's true he was a last minute addition to the band right before their big break, but here's the reality; if the Beatles had not found Ringo, they would have been missing an essential link that would have kept them from reaching that next level. Albums like "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" would not have the same lasting force if not for Ringo's thundering drums. I recently finished Bob Spitz's book on the Beatles and there was a point in 1968 where Ringo had become fed up with the constant in house bickering and allegedly up and quit the band. However, it was Ringo who had the last laugh. While he was off cleansing his mind, the band struggled to put together a single drum track over a two-week period. Just like before he joined the Beatles, without him, they were lost and missing an indispensable facet. 

These concerts usually consist of a variety of distinctive artists, all of whom get to perform a few of their songs along with a number of Beatles and Ringo songs. Three Ringo solo numbers kicked off the evening; "It Don't Come Easy", "What Goes Around" (performed live for the first time on this tour) and the old Carl Perkins classic, "Honey Don't". Ringo was front and center handling front man duties as the All Star Band backed him up with the precision of a veteran group of musicians who have performed together for years. I was surprised at how lighthearted, jovial and entertaining this show was. Does it have the same intensity level of other shows I have recently seen? No, however, the entire evening was one where virtually anyone from the ages of six to sixty could sit back and appreciate. 

For the 2006 edition of the All Star Band, Ringo has managed to pull together another set of "A grade" musicians, whom upon first appearance would appear to be mismatched but once the lights dimmed, they proved to be enduring. There was local Chicago boy Richard Marx on rhythm guitar, Sheila E on drums, Billy Squier on lead guitar, Hamish Stuart on bass, Rod Argent on keyboards and the man who brought the house down and stole the show; multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter. Edgar performed solo hits "Free Ride" and "Frankenstein" which received the second largest reaction of the evening next to "Yellow Submarine". What floored me was the presence Winter had while he was front and center whether he was performing the keyboards, saxophone or his amazing drum solo. Edgar Winter is an all star band within himself; his drum duel with Sheila E within "Frankenstein" was fixating and worth the price of admission alone. Watching him made me realize that he would compliment Kid Rock on his stage and it also verified where Rock may have stolen a few of his tricks from. 

Billy Squier is an artist whose career was killed by the video star. A fluffy and over the top video from 1983 virtually eradicated his career. However, during the 140-minute show none of that mattered as Squier proved himself as an extraordinary talent on the six string. "Everybody Wants You" was performed early brining shrieks of admiration from the crowd; however, while the classics resonated, an eighty-year old song would prove to be Squier's immaculate moment. He displayed his bluesy side with an homage to Robert Johnson with the classic "Rambling On My Mind" (made popular in the 1960's by John Mayall and a then unknown guitar player Eric Clapton). Johnson only had a few dozen of his songs ever committed to vinyl. However, his legacy is untouchable as those recordings are the very seeds that gave birth to rock n' roll. "Rock Me Tonight", one of Billy's radio classics appeared later in the evening, however, during "Rambling" Squier showed off his true chops as a guitarist and made me think of how a blues side project would not be a bad idea for him as he appeared to be completely at ease with the material. 

While Edgar Winter may have stolen the show, Sheila E kept it moving and was the spine of the band. She never missed a beat and delivered first rate versions of "A Love Bizarre" and "The Glamorous Life" giving the evening its most pop moments. Pop songs or not, Sheila E made you stand up and take notice of them with her steadfast performance. 

Aside from seeing a Beatle in concert, Richard Marx was my other main attraction. To me, he is his generations Billy Joel. He's most known for his power pop adult contemporary ballads ("Right Here Waiting" was performed during the solo portion); however, ironically, aside from Ringo's success with the Beatles, no other act in this band has had as many hits. Here is an artist who had fourteen Top-Twenty hits between 1987 and 1994. Say what you want about the life his ballads went on to have, but at his core Richard Marx has always been a first rate musician, producer and songwriter. I feel his songwriting style has more in common with the great artists of the 70's like Joel, Elton John, The Eagles and the Terry Kath era of Chicago rather than the adult contemporary artists of the last two decades he most often is associated with (Michael Bolton and Luther Vandross). He's put his career on the back burner over the last decade and has become a very valuable hired gun for numerous artists, including most recently Keith Urban. One of the first concerts I ever saw was Marx and he always was an engaging and likeable performer. With all of this being said, I'm not sure why I was so startled at how well his solo hits sounded with Ringo's band. Billy Squier guitar screeched through "Should've Known Better", which was virtually unrecognizable in its hard rock configuration. Unlike the semi-safe radio hit from 1987, there was no denying the raw energy the band gave off as they made the performance mesmerizing yet effortless all at the same time. "Don't Mean Nothing", Marx's first hit, still resonates as strongly today as it did nineteen years ago. Ironically, his disillusioned rocker, which tells the story of a beleaguered artist and their encounters to make it in Los Angeles, makes more sense today than when it was written two decades back. An up and coming artist looking for a hit would be smart to cover this song. Most people view Marx as a balladeer, but I've always seen him as a rocker and his solo spots during this show gave people a glimpse of the understated urgency in his writing. I look forward to his next solo endeavor and hopefully seeing him live on stage once again with his own band. 

Despite the extraordinary talents of every musician on stage, the man everyone came to see was Ringo. Surprisingly, he is not an artist who rests on his legacy alone. While there was plenty of nostalgia to reassure even the most cynical fan, it was the little moments I treasured most. Ringo should be given an immense amount of credit because illustrious musicians normally do not forge great bands. Even though every member of his band may have a more intrinsic musical ability than he does, he finds a way to bring out the best in each of them. He's also the perfect gentleman always singing (not literally) his bands praises. Right before one of Sheila E's performances he prefaced it with "She hits the drums more during the next ten minutes than I have in my entire life". He ensures the show is fluid and meticulously paced. Never once did I look at my watch or wish I could fast forward to the next performer or song. While Ringo may never be able to bring forth the emotion one feels at a Paul McCartney concert, he does bring his musical circus to town virtually every year giving it his all night after night. Since 1989, I believe Ringo has performed more live shows than the other three Beatles did as solo artists combined. 

With a show like this, one would assume Ringo would snub his recent work and concentrate on the standards, but this was not the case. While "Yellow Submarine" and "Act Naturally" were crowd pleasers, it was the rare songs that caught me by surprise. Last year's "Choose Love" was performed (from the album of the same name) as was "Memphis On My Mind" from 2002's "Ringorama". Both songs fit well into the set and an average fan could very well mistake these songs as Beatles b-sides written for Ringo. "I Wanna Be Your Man" was mesmerizing as Ringo bopped his head back and forth while performing the drums, just like he did four decades back. Unexpectedly it was the solo number "Photograph" that affected me the most. Up until recently, I never realized Ringo had co-written this song with George Harrison. When he sang the lyrics "All I've got is a photograph and I realize you're not coming back anymore" it gave me a lump in my throat. "Photograph" may be the crown jewel in Ringo's solo catalog as it pulls on your heart as a reminder not only that two of Ringo's brothers are no longer with us, but of the friends and family in our own lives who have passed on. If Ringo ever gets elected to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, it will largely be due to this song. 

I've seen bands that have been together for years that could not perform half as well. Each artist who graced the stage with Ringo proved themselves to be an absurdly endowed artist. When I witness shows like this, I realize just how many truly gifted people there are in this world that never get to have their voice heard. A show like this should be a disaster from a performance standpoint as the best live concerts as usually ones where the artists bring a history and emotion to the stage with them. Yet, each of these artists converged together for one reason; to play with Ringo and therein is the centerpiece of emotional connection. This is one of those rare and wondrous shows which stun you as you walk away with a deeper appreciation for each of these artists' talents. More important than showcasing their egos, these performers come to the stage humble thrilled to be gracing the stage with a legend. As I watched these seven performers exceed my expectations I could not help but notice the charisma and respect they had for one another. To become a great band, each member left their egos behind and as a result, these songs were elevated to more than just unremarkable songs, but forgotten pop and rock classics which maybe deserve a more profound recognition. When the final song, "With A Little Help From My Friends", closed out the two hour-twenty minute show I left feeling the band was more than just a bunch of talented musicians, but a band worthy of the name "All Stars". 


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