Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band WinStar Casino, Thackerville, Oklahoma Saturday, July 5, 2014
It could be said that there are two types of Beatles' fans: those who revere them as enlightened mystical geniuses for their revolutionary experimentation in music, and the other type which prefers the cartoonish, suited-up figurine version of the band from the early '60s, with their excessive commercialism and simple pop songs like "Help". The latter category's favorite Beatle is invariably Ringo.
Starr's trajectory has brought him from the modest Cavern Club in Liverpool to arenas the size of Madison Square Garden, now to a sold-out show at the Winstar Casino in Oklahoma, which falls somewhere in between the two. The venue looks like a convention center in its dark after hours, and let's be honest, it's not exactly in Monte Carlo. There were people sitting at the slot machines outside with oxygen masks, still smoking. It's easy to make a comparison between Starr's career and Elvis'. Doubtless John Lennon would not still be touring at this type of friendly but unremarkable venue.
Individually, the Beatles have almost all been recognized for their unique contributions: George Harrison could be identified as the soul of the band, Paul McCartney as the brains, Lennon the heart, and Starr as the legs that all those elements stood on. It's hard to imagine the different turn history might have taken had Starr pursued his pre-Beatles plan of moving to Houston to be closer to his blues-playing heroes. Today, Starr plays with the All-Starr Band that he's assembled and disassembled almost yearly since 1989. It's now on its 13th lineup and includes '70s stars Todd Rundgren and Greg Rolie from Santana.
Starr literally ran out to the stage, flashing dual peace signs á la Nixon, a habit that would persist through the entire show, along with the repetitive use of the word "peace," making the sentiment seem gimmicky. At 71, he looks like he's still in his 50s, and sounds it too -- even if he's never been known for having the best vocals. Given that he spent most of his career performing behind a drum set, Starr seemed perplexingly comfortable with his own awkward dancing. He introduced the other players as fellow songwriters, and they all projected ease and joy on stage, like an unhurried and well-rehearsed jam.
After opening with "Matchbox" it wasn't until the third song that Starr got behind the drums. Even without the bangs and head shaking of yore, the moment was pure gold, especially when he played the Beatles, which was the unapologetic reason we were all there. Even though the band gelled well, and every player gave it their all, something about the ambiance and the stage's simple backdrop of revolving five-pointed stars felt like the stuff of a cruise. Still, there was something beautiful about seeing a Beatle play a Beatles song.
All around Starr, the whole production was flawlessly cohesive and never missed a beat. Rundgren has a mid-2000s Christina Aguilera 'do with either really long black streaks or long white roots which he needs to tend to, and waves a hand like Aguilera would during an impressive high note. Regardless, he had the most rockish quality. Steve Lukather from Toto created the most impactful musical moments, making his guitar orchestrations go from intricate to certifiably insane. One of the most transcendent events of the night happened during Santana's "Black Magic Woman," curiously the one time Starr was absent from the stage.
The selections of Beatles songs was peculiarly limited to those in which Starr sang originally, "Honey Don't", "Boys", "Don't Pass Me By", "Act Naturally", and "I Wanna Be Your Man" (the last one considered by the other Beatles to be so mediocre that it was given to a then mostly-unknown Rolling Stones). Sadly, it's a list of some of the worst songs off Beatles entire catalog and raises questions about Starr's general taste for campiness. The most disappointing factor in the show was the omission of , "Octopus's Garden", an easily recognizable Beatles hit, so closely associated with Ringo one almost pictures him with eight tentacles when listening.
The greatest moments were those where the audience was most fervently adoring, such as "Yellow Submarine" and the closing medley of "With a little help from my friends" and "Give peace a chance". Everybody stood and swayed side-to-side, and there was a strong church-like feeling of neighborly love in the room.
All the same, reproaching Starr can't help but feel comparable to the pettiness of reprimanding your favorite great-uncle for singing excitedly in his living room to a happy baby. Sure, Ringo's show comes with a side of expected and harmless cheese, but it's of the aged and first-rate kind.