PHOENIX — Thinking of the history of popular music, especially rock ‘n’ roll history, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of people who were “there.” Every legendary artist started small, as even the biggest artists of all time had those early shows before it all blew up, and inexplicably there were people — average everyday people — who were lucky enough to be “there” to see those struggling performers before they turned into superstars.
Still walking around are those who saw Elvis play local shows in Memphis, Bob Dylan play coffee houses in New York or, most mind-blowing of all to me, The Beatles play The Cavern Club in Liverpool. For the rest of us, those artists existed bigger than life, playing the biggest stages in the world. Unless you were one of those lucky individuals in The Cavern Club, or The Star Club in Hamburg, they only existed as mega stars, playing the biggest venues the 60’s had to offer.
We would never get as close or as intimate as those lucky individuals who were there for those early days before they were legends, that is unless you were lucky enough to catch Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band at Celebrity Theatre on one of two nights at their Phoenix stop on the tour. The Celebrity Theatre is a rare wonder that has no such thing as a “bad seat,” with its smaller intimate setting in the round with a rotating stage dead-center. It is certainly the most up-close anyone is likely to get to any of these legends since they first began their careers in bars and small clubs.
Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band
The “All-Starr Band” concept was originally conceived in 1989 by Ringo, with the idea that he would put together a band, not just of professional hired guns to help him perform many of his hits across his storied career from The Beatles to his many incredible solo records, but instead pack the band with fellow legendary performers who also had a bottomless well of hits from which to pull.
Over the years, the Ringo’s All-Starr Band has included members of The Band, Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, The Eagles, The Who, Dr. John, Todd Rundgren, Peter Frampton, and the “fifth Beatle” Mr. Billy Preston. This, the 15th iteration of Ringo’s All-Starr Band, included Edgar Winter, Hamish Staurt from Average White Band, Steve Lukather from Toto, and Colin Hay from Men at Work. The band is rounded out with Warren Ham who has played with Kansas and Toto (nice pairing) on saxophone, flute, and keyboards and Gregg Bissonette, who has played with seemingly everyone (seriously, look him up) on all things percussion.
What of course makes the All-Starr Band so fun is that any given member could step up to the microphone and have enough hits at their disposal to play the show all by themselves. All of this results in a kind of jamboree of fun, as members take turns stepping into the spotlight for a song, only to then pass the spotlight to the next member, as the show rotates around the already rotating stage (if you’ve never been to the Celebrity Theatre, you need to get there for a show).
Ringo opened the show with a raucous cover of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” a staple of The Beatles early live shows and later showing up as a single off of the Long Tall Sally EP. It was followed by “It Don’t Come Easy,” arguably Ringo’s most soulful vocal performance from his solo records. After blazing through “What Goes On” from The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Ringo seceded the spotlight and moved to the drums.
This began what makes the All-Starr Band concept so much fun every time: each performer taking turns stepping up to the microphone to perform one of their own hits. Leading off was Edgar Winter who played his now 51-year-old hit “Free Ride,” which sounded as fresh and fun that night as it did the first time any of us played it in our cars with the windows down and the volume up.
This was followed by Steve Lukather leading the band through “Roseanna,” with the crowd spiritedly singing along and pumping their fist in time with the chord changes, Hamish Stuart playing a ripping version of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces,” and Colin Hay taking the band through an extended version of Men At Work’s hit “Down Under” that included a fun call-and-respond with the crowd. “I wrote this song in forty minutes, and it’s sustained me for forty years,” he told the crowd prior to starting the song.
At that time, Ringo returned from behind the drum kit for a run through of “Boys,” his first vocal performance on The Beatles first album Please, Please Me, “I’m the Greatest” from Ringo (a song written for him by John Lennon), and “Yellow Submarine,” which a quick scan of the theatre revealed that every generation of fan in attendance — from those who were there from the start with The Beatles to little kids who have since grown up with the band through their parents and grandparents love for them — was joyfully and exuberantly singing along. Following this, as the crowd was still on their feet, cheering and clapping, Ringo waved to the audience and left the stage. “Don’t worry. He’ll be back,” Edgar Winter playfully reassured the crowd.
With Ringo gone, the band performed Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake,” the title track from their third album. “I’m going to hand it over to Edgar Winter now to unleash the beast,” he said at the song’s closing. Winter’s performance of instrumental classic “Frankenstein” allowed the band to have fun on what turned out to be a jam session that impressively highlighted the drumming skills of Gregg Bissonette. Throughout the song, which stretched to nearly ten minutes, Bissonette worked in drum breaks that steered the song into a range of hits by other artists, including “Come Together” by The Beatles, “Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Led Zeppelin, and appropriately enough, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” — the seventeen-minute Iron Butterfly classic in which the recognizable drumming comes during the lengthy instrumental break in the song. By the end of the jam, Bissonette, very deservedly, got one of the biggest pops from the crowd.
Ringo returned to the stage, and before going into “Octopus’s Garden” (rivaling “Yellow Submarine” for one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the night), he introduced each member of the band, heaping praise on them as he did. It was followed by his solo hit “Back Off Boogaloo.” Next up was Colin Hay to perform Men at Work’s ode to anxiety “Overkill.”
“Every song we’ve played tonight is one you know, but I’d like to debut my 30-minute jazz odyssey,” Steve Lukather joked with the crowd, adding, “If you get really stoned first, you might just get into it,” before launching into “Africa” — Toto’s mega-smash that will live on for generations to come. The performance featured some incredible backing vocals from Colin Hay.
After going one more round with each performer, including Hamish Stuart with the Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do,” and Ringo playing The Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Edgar Winter took a moment to pay tribute to his brother Johnny Winter before playing “Johnny B. Goode,” a song the brothers used to play together growing up, as they each first learned to play the guitar. It was immediately followed by Colin Hay playing “Who Can It Be Now?” and Steve Lukather on Toto’s “Hold the Line.”
The evening closed as it began, with the tour’s namesake Ringo Starr on vocals for his solo classic “Photograph,” the Johnny Russell hit “Act Naturally”, made famous by Buck Owens and even more famous by The Beatles version on Help!, and finally and very fittingly given the vibe of the tour and the mutual respect and camaraderie amongst the performers, they closed the evening “With a Little Help From My Friends.” As the song came to a close, they shifted to a cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” to send the crowd home happy, still singing along in their own acapella as they exited the Celebrity Theatre and out into the warm Phoenix night.
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band – Celebrity Theatre 5-20-23
Photography © Mark Greenawalt.
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