It’s a quiet fall Sunday evening in downtown St. Paul but the Ordway Center for Performing Arts is bustling with activity. It’s Ringo Starr tonight, and the two-thousand-some attendees are dressed to a t. I’m not quite sure what to expect this evening. Will this be a Beatles show? Solo Ringo? Covers? Regardless, I am about to inhabit the same space as a Beatle and I’m all in, wherever this goes.
I am seated at the very back of the theater, but sightlines are clear enough to see the sheen of Ringo’s leather pants (find me another man in his 70’s who can pull off that look). I quickly realize this is not a Beatles show, nor a showcase of Ringo’s solo works. No, this is a supergroup, it’s Ringo Starr and the All Starr Band, and there’s a lot of musical royalty on stage tonight.
We’ve got Ringo on drums and vocals, Steve Lukather of Toto on guitar, Colin Hay of Men At Work on guitar, Graham Gouldman of 10cc on bass, Gregg Rolie of Santana on keys, prolific drummer Gregg Bissonette on the second drum kit, and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham of Bloodrock and Kansas.
We get a Beatles song not far into the set, Rubber Soul’s “What Goes On,” Ringo’s only moment of lead vocals on the album. And without a beat, Ringo is behind the kit, doubling drums for 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday” and Santana’s “Evil Ways,” Toto’s “Rosanna” and Men At Work’s “Land Down Under.”
This really isn’t a Ringo show at all, but a Ringo-led sampler of three decades of rock and roll hits. The combined years of performing experience on stage this evening are in the hundreds. The history is palpable and the energy is high. The crowd knows all the words to every song. This is truly an experience like none other: it’s every band you’ve always wanted to see all playing each other’s songs like it was the first time they’ve ever played them.
After returning from behind the kit to lead us all in a smiley sing-along of “Yellow Submarine,” Ringo declares what’s about to happen a “Magical Musical Moment” and quietly slinks off to stage left, letting the band lead us through a jammy length of “Black Magic Woman” and “Gypsy Queen” by Santana. These guys have not lost their chops and though he’s no Carlos Santana, Steve Lukather does a killer job leading us through all the iconic solos.
Ringo’s back out now to perform his ‘74 hit “You’re Sixteen.” This is an uncomfortable collection of moments. This song doesn’t read the same way it did in 70’s. Dated is an understatement. If you’ve never heard this song, the chorus is as follows:
“You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.”
Suffice it to say watching a band of men in their 60’s and 70’s perform this song is, at the very least, jarring, at the most disturbing. This song needs to be retired or passed on to Drake for an ensured career kill. I’m just going to move forward from here.
We get another hit from Hay, Men At Work’s “Overkill,” which goes straight into Toto’s Africa and I am finished. As meme-a-fied as it’s become, Africa is one of the goddam best songs ever written and it will remain a classic for eternity. I’m shaking and crying a little. Santana’s “Oye Como Va” comes next to save the day.
The hits are coming quick now, we must be approaching the end of the night. Ringo is back from behind the kit again for his decidedly-less-creepy “Photograph” and the Beatles’ “Act Naturally.” He’s got the crowd in his pocket now and finishes off the evening with the classic “A Little Help From My Friends.” Show over at 9:30 PM on the dot, no encore, many peace signs, house lights are up.
I got to cross a line off the bucket list tonight: I saw a Beatle. The drummer of the best rock and roll band of all time. And not in a stadium, not on a screen as big as my living room, but close enough to see those leather trousers shine. Phew. Ringo. Goodnight.