It's hard out there for aging rock stars. Bruce Springsteen came down with peptic ulcer disease last month and had to postpone his fall concerts until 2024. Steven Tyler was diagnosed with a fractured larynx last month, so Aerosmith also had to postpone its fall concerts until next year. Ringo Starr was derailed twice last year by COVID-19 and postponed his tour.
But the Beatle is back on the road, singing, drumming, flashing peace signs and doing jumping jacks. On Sunday at sold-out Mystic Lake Casino Showroom, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band were a nostalgic treat — but maybe not like you might think.
Unlike Paul McCartney, the only other living Beatle doesn't turn his concerts into a Beatlefest. While more than half of McCartney's repertoire on tour last year was Lennon-McCartney tunes, for Starr, it was only five Fab Four nuggets, four Ringo solo favorites, four classics the Beatles covered and several hits associated with the other members of His All-Starr Band.
Starr didn't even mention the Beatles by name ("that other band," he called them) and neither did any of his All-Starrs ("the greatest drummer in the greatest band," said Edgar Winter). Ringo did mention there was only one song he wrote with John Lennon and Paul McCartney ("What Goes On") and that Lennon wrote "I'm the Greatest" for him (on Sunday, Starr changed the lyrics to "I'm way past 32/All I want to do is boogaloo"). And he gave a shoutout to a fan wearing a "Sgt. Pepper's suit."
Starr's 2 ¼-hour show played out like — choose your analogy — 1) a rock 'n' roll guitar pull in which everyone takes a turn singing 2) a modern-day version of Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars (different famous singers but one backup band) or 3) a live classic-rock jukebox.
Whatever you consider it, good songs, good spirit, good musicianship, good camaraderie and good humor added up to a good time.
The 15th iteration of His All-Starr Band since 1989 — the ninth to play in the Twin Cities and first since 2018 — featured players in their 60s and 70s who have worked on and off with Starr: Men at Work guitarist Colin Hay (since 2003), keyboardist/saxophonist Winter (2006), Average White Band bassist/guitarist Hamish Stuart (2006), Toto guitarist Steve Lukather (2012), session drummer Gregg Bissonette (2008) and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham (2014).
The MVPs were Ham, who sang the high parts on Toto tunes and played sax, flute and keyboards, and Lukather, a remarkably versatile guitarist who brought twang, blues, Space Age sounds, heavy rock riffs, swinging Chuck Berry licks or whatever was called for.
At 83 (a year older than Bob Dylan, who's also touring this fall), Ringo drummed for much of the evening, sang a handful of songs while standing and took a 20-minute break during two long instrumentals, Winter's "Frankenstein" and Stuart's "Cut the Cake."
Wearing a black T-shirt with a rhinestone peace sign, Starr was more of a personality than a vocalist, but he turned on the charm with his peace-and-love vibes and easy if corny humor. He showed once again that he is a seemingly effortless but underrated drummer, a steady stickman who efficiently drove the band, often playing in tandem with Bissonette. And how can you resist a jaunty Beatle jumping up and down, doing 10 jumping jacks during "With a Little Help From My Friends" and then jogging off? Only to return to sing the chorus of "Give Peace a Chance."
As a bandleader, Starr feels a compunction to be democratic and give every All-Starr equal opportunity in the spotlight. But Hay's "Overkill" and Stuart's "Work to Do" were lesser efforts that could be curtailed.
At least every All-Starr got to try his one-upmanship in the humor department, whether Winter with his alliterative descriptions; Stuart calling Hay his "personal choreographer"; Lukather threatening to perform a 20-minute jazz odyssey and playfully delivering several bars of it; Hay making up that "Down Under" went No. 1 in Minneapolis before any other U.S. city, or Bissonette playing drum solos from "Come Together" and "Honky Tonk Women."
The crowd of 2,100 roared for Toto's "Africa" and "Hold the Line" and cheered for Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now?" and Winter's 13-minute rendition of "Frankenstein." But the high points were the kumbaya-ish finale "With a Little Help From My Friends" and "Photograph," Ringo's first No. 1 solo hit, from 1973, a nostalgic reflection on a relationship in which he sang "I realize you're not coming back anymore."
We'll come back if he will.