Ringo Starr always was the least Beatle.
Not only was he the last to join the band (hence John, Paul, George and Ringo) but he sang (and wrote) the fewest songs and became the last Beatle to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his solo career — and he was chosen mysteriously by an unexplained committee with his name never appearing on the voters’ ballot.
Nonetheless, never underestimate how important he was to the Fab Four. Starr put the beat in the Beatles, a steady timekeeper under the creativity of John, Paul and George. He was a steady personality as well, never going off the deep end and often cracking a joke (or malapropism) to keep everyone loose.
This year he released his 18th solo album, landed in the Rock Hall and celebrated the 25th anniversary of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.
His job as bandleader of the oft-changing All-Starr Band apparently has (d)evolved into being the host of a live presentation of a late-night Time Life infomercial for the lite rock of the ’70s and ’80s. Yes, the genial Starr emanated joy, peace and love Friday night at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis. But his All-Starr Band felt like a bunch of underemployed sidemen who used to play in famous bands.
Starr’s concept has worked effectively in the past as sort of a live classic-rock jukebox featuring the likes of Dr. John, Joe Walsh and Edgar Winter. But the current combo, together for four years, may have the egos-in-check camaraderie but the two-hour show lacked pacing and the right material. There were plenty of hits but they were not so great. Unless you’re a big fan of Toto and Mr. Mister.
Keyboardist Gregg Rolie of Santana and Journey fame brought some can’t-miss, lively Santana classics, including “Evil Ways,” “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman,” to the 25-song set, but then featured soloist, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, a skilled technician, lacked the ethereal spiritualism of Carlos Santana.
Moreover, as a vocalist, Lukather wasn’t exactly Toto-rific on “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Luckily, he had a host of terrific backup singers who connected “Hold the Line” with the sellout crowd.
Richard Page of Mr. Mister soared on the 1985 hit “Broken Wings” but misfired on the new “You Are Mine,” which sounded like a bad Eagles song about possessiveness. At least Todd Rundgren truly lived up to All-Starr billing, with the winning “I Saw the Light” and the invigorating “Bang the Drum All Day,” a favorite at sportings events and, of course, with Starr.
“Bang the drum all day. That’s what I do,” said Starr, 75, who was as silly as Rundgren was goofy.
Actually, Starr was pretty corny in a likable way. During every song he sang, he flashed about six peace signs with his fingers and urged “peace and love” as if they were ad-libbed lyrics. As a singer, he was a little flat on the Fab Four’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” and irony-impaired on “I’m the Greatest,” which John Lennon wrote for him.
But despite his limited vocal range, you couldn’t argue with the spirit of such happy, singalongs as “Photograph,” “Boys” and “Yellow Submarine.” And you could appreciate his drumming prowess as he backed Rundgren, Rolie, Page and Lukather with precision and tasty fills.
Fittingly, Starr and his pals closed with the theme of both Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band and his more famous band — “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which felt like a kumbaya uplift. But the least Beatle had to offer his forever message one last time, so he encored with a verse and chorus of “Give Peace a Chance.”