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A Little Too Much Help From His Friends

Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
Milwaukee, WI
August 9, 2003

Ringo Starr
John Waite
Ringo Starr

Story and Photos by Tony Bonyata

Its been almost a year since anything this seemingly gear has happened to fans of The Beatles in Brew City. That was when last September former mop-top Paul McCartney made a stop at the Bradley Center, proving that his legacy - both as a Beatle and as a solo artist - was still fully intact. So when word was out that that former Fab Four drummer Ringo Starr would be back in town, a faint reminder of Beatlemania hit the hearts of those old enough to remember the excitement that these four Liverpudlians created in the early 60s.
Ringo Starr Since 1989 Ringo has been touring with his self-proclaimed All Starr Band, an interchanging group of musicians who've all had varying degrees of success on their own. Previous members have included the likes of Billy Preston, Dr. John, Joe Walsh, Dave Edmunds, Todd Rundgren, Ian Hunter, The Who's late bassist John Entwistle and even his own son Zak Starkey (currently the drummer for Johnny Marr and The Healers). For his eighth incarnation of The All Starrs, the 63-year old rocker has enlisted Colin Hay (Men At Work), John Waite (The Babys), Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Nick Lowe), Sheila E. (Prince) and Mark Rivera (John Lennon, Peter Gabriel, Simon & Garfunkel).
Ringo Starr With short cropped salt-and-pepper hair, beard and ever-present dark shades, Ringo gingerly ran onto the stage looking fit and happy as he and the band immediately broke into "It Don't Come Easy," his first solo hit after The Beatles split. As in recent tours, Ringo's role has changed dramatically from his former band. Instead of providing the backbeat to John, Paul and George's timeless compositions, the drummer now spent a good majority of the show as frontman running through old Beatles favs such as "Honey Don't," "Boys," "Yellow Submarine," "Don't Pass Me By" and "With A Little Help From My Friends, not to mention a few of his own solo hits such as "You're Sixteen" and "No No Song." Despite his good natured demeanor and easy going delivery, it was when he hunkered down behind his drumkit to back up his fellow musicians on their own numbers that he seemed most at home. It was his own simple, yet uniquely signature style of drumming with that big, honest smile and irresistible bobbing noggin that reminded the aging crowd of when he and fellow Beatles once had the world at their feet. Thankfully the one thing that has remained the same with Ringo over the last four decades is his lovable personality.
Ringo Starr But it was also when Ringo was behind the skins that proved to be the double-edged sword of the performance. While, quite obviously, the strongest songs of the evening came from Ringo's own back catalog (both from The Beatles and his own early solo career) he never really seemed too compelling in his roll as frontman; instead coming off more as a humorous emcee than the rock 'n' icon that he indeed is. And when he joined Sheila E. on the drums the songs performed by the other artists seemed hopelessly dated and out of touch. While Carrack's soulful vocals on his Squeeze hit "Tempted" was inspirational, the middle-of-the-road Ace hit "How Long" fit awkwardly within the mix. Likewise, Hay's Men At Work hits "Down Under" and "Overkill," along with Sheila E.'s "Glamorous Life" and Waite's "Isn't It Time" and soppy ballad "When I See You Smile" made this feel like a bad time trip into 1980s MTV pop pap.
Schmaltz aside, a few gems did manage to rise to the surface, however. When the bandleader left the stage, the All Starrs turned in one of the true delights of the evening when they broke into a heartfelt acoustic version of George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun" (which was the slightly underscored by "Never Without You," a well-meaning but painfully penned tribute to Harrison from Starr's latest album Ringo Rama). Ringo then delivered a delightfully playful piano accompaniment to his song "Don't Pass Me By," from The Beatles' white album, before the band jumped in and added a meaty backbone to this simple country-flavored number.
If Ringo would just stick primarily to what he does best - act as the huggable host to a fun-filled musical party with more of his own songs as the main course, and a little less help from his new friends' own less-than-satisfactory side dishes - then we'd probably be less likely to pass him by the next time he comes to town.

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