Paul McCartney has the No. 1 album in the nation. Ringo Starr is selling out his concerts throughout North America, including Sunday’s at the Ordway in St. Paul. Is Beatlemania having another eruption 48 years after the Beatles broke up?
No, Beatlemania never died. It just takes different forms as it grips different generations. Like the family of four in the front row at the Ordway on Sunday in matching homemade T-shirts, with epaulets and Sgt. Pepper’s-like band-uniform buttons (with giant headphones for the two kids under 10 years old). Or the gray-haired guy with the Fab Four necktie. Or the woman in the third row holding up a toy yellow submarine.
Despite the mania of the fans, Ringo wouldn’t let the two-hour concert turn into a Beatlefest. No, this is the 13th incarnation of His All-Starr Band since 1989 — and the eighth to visit the Twin Cities — and it’s as much about the other stars as it is about the ringleader. Except he’s a Beatle and they, frankly, are B-listers from bands that had hits back in the day.
At 78, Ringo still has hair, humor and a mantra of “peace and love” (the over/under number on how many times he flashed a peace sign at the Ordway was 21, and you should have bet the over). He proved once again that he’s an underrated drummer and an overrated singer. Let’s be honest, he’s really more of a personality than a vocalist.
But give him credit as bandleader, because he has assembled a tight, well-balanced group that played with spirit and camaraderie. Truth be told, the crowd cheered louder after some songs featuring the singers in the All-Starr Band, aka Ringo’s Classic-Rock Jukebox, than they did for the Ringo solo and Beatles numbers.
The biggest hits were Men at Work’s “Down Under” (1981) featuring the playful singer/guitarist Colin Hay, Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” (’70) and “Oye Como Va” (’71) featuring Santana vocalist/organist Gregg Rolie, and Toto’s “Africa” (’82) featuring Toto guitarist/vocalist Steve Lukather and Hay on the high vocal parts. Lukather also revved up the Santana songs, trying to evoke the great guitar work of Carlos Santana but often playing too fast and showy.
Bassist/singer Graham Gouldman of 10cc was new to the All-Starr Band and offered “Things We Do For Love” (’77) and “I’m Not in Love” (’75), which reminded us that he’s not Paul McCartney but sure tried to sound like him. Including the little known “Dreadlock Holiday,” which Gouldman said was a hit everywhere in ’78 but America, seemed misguided. Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to cover other hits he wrote such as the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” or the Hollies’ “Bus Stop”?
It was hard to argue with Ringo’s song selection, which was eight numbers associated with the Beatles and four from his solo catalog. Sometimes this ensemble — which also included drummer Gregg Bissonette and saxophonist Warren Ham —was too full-sounding for such Beatles classics as “Boys” and “I Wanna Be Your Man.” However, “Yellow Submarine” was an unsinkable singalong, and “With a Little Help from My Friends” was a feel-good finale with a taste of “Give Peace a Chance” added on.
Ringo explained his efforts as a songwriter, sharing only one writing credit with Lennon and McCartney, 1965’s “What Goes On,” a countryish ditty that was forgettable on Sunday. “Anthem,” a 2012 Ringo composition about seeking an anthem about peace and love, sounded like a chorus still looking for verses.
More convincing was 1973’s “Photograph,” Ringo’s first No. 1 solo hit, which brought people to their feet (without their cellphone cameras) as he sang about growing old and gray together, a perfect and timeless snapshot of Ringo as he still appeals for peace and love for all generations of Beatlemaniacs — including those to come.