By Andy J. Gordon
It’s not every day that diehard Rock & Roll junkies get to see an ex-Beatle in person. With only Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still around to keep the legacy of the Beatles alive, when one of them comes to town, it is a must-attend event. That’s what several thousand fans were thinking on September 29, 2018, as they flocked to the Greek Theatre, the great outdoor venue in Hollywood, California. Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band played the last show of a 21-city U.S. tour. And this truly all-star group of musicians performed like it really was the end of something special.
Starr is a two-time inductee to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, having entered in 1988 as the drummer of the Beatles and again in 2015 with an Award for Musical Excellence. He started recording solo albums in 1970 and has guested on the albums of numerous artists ranging from Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills to B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf over the years. Since 1989, Starr has toured with his All Starr Band. The members have varied over the years, but always consist of rock pioneers, many of whom have had major success in their own bands.
The 2018 lineup is no exception. Starr is joined by Colin Hay, the lead singer and guitarist from Men at Work; Toto’s singer/guitarist Steve Lukather, who has also done session work on over 1,500 albums; Gregg Rolie, singer and keyboardist for both Santana and Journey; and Graham Gouldman, the singer and bassist of 10cc. Also playing in the band are Warren Ham on percussion, sax, flute and vocals and Gregg Bissonette on drums.
The Greek Theatre show was a veritable jukebox of hits from the 60s through the 80s. Starr was more than generous with his bandmates – nearly half of the show featured songs by their respective bands, while the other tunes came from the Beatles’ songbook and Starr’s solo work. The band did an incredible job of recreating the hits. It was obvious that all the members are super talented, professional musicians that love performing together. Several times during the show, both during and between songs, Lukather, Rolie, Gouldman, Hay, Ham and Starr would hug and share a good laugh.
Graham Gouldman held the thumping bass line for the entire show and contributed sweet vocal harmonies throughout. He got the spotlight for an excellent version of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” which reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 on the Billboard charts in 1975. He also sang the peppy “The Things We Do for Love,” a big hit from 1977.
Gregg Rolie took the spotlight for a few Santana classics. The band really nailed versions of “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” and “Oye Como Va.” Rolie sang and played mesmerizing organ solos during the sequence of hits. Lukather did an amazing job of recreating the unmistakable Carlos Santana guitar riffs on the songs.
Lukather played like a magician throughout the show. His incredible solos and spot-on guitar chords were never better than when he led the way on a few of the Toto classics. Lukather and Warren Ham handled the vocals with the other bandmembers harmonizing on “Rosanna.” Lukather once again showed his prowess on No. 1 hit “Africa” and the anthemic “Hold the Line.”
Colin Hay, the former lead singer for Men at Work, delighted the crowd by telling them that he has been a Los Angeles resident for 30 years. He took over lead vocals on “Land Down Under” that featured Warren Ham on the distinctive flute melody. Hay had the crowd singing along during “Who Can It Be Now” and “Overkill.”
While the crowd enjoyed the hits from the supporting band members, Ringo Starr was clearly the main attraction. When the band played songs by the other artists, Ringo spent the time behind his drum kit and shared the percussion responsibilities with Gregg Bissonette. However, when performing the Beatles’ and his solo hits, he came out to the front of stage and was armed only with a microphone as he led the crowd through several familiar tunes.
Ringo opened the show with a tribute to an early blues influence on the Beatles, singing Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Matchbox,” written in 1927 and first performed by the Beatles in 1961. He also sang his hit “It Don’t Come Easy” that he wrote with George Harrison. Ringo was particularly proud to introduce “Don’t Pass Me By,” the first song he wrote that the Beatles recorded.
The big crowd supported Ringo’s vocals with a loud and enthusiastic singalong on the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and did the same for “You’re Sixteen,” a song written by the Sherman Brothers (Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman) that reached No. 1 when Ringo recorded it on his self-titled 1974 album.
The hits continued with “I Wanna Be Your Man,” a Lennon–McCartney-penned song recorded and released as a single by the Rolling Stones, and then recorded by the Beatles. Ringo kept the singalongs going with “Photograph,” another No. 1 single he co-wrote with George Harrison. The show came to a rousing conclusion as the crowd buzzed with anticipation hoping for more special guests.
Since Ringo Starr began his All Starr Band tours, he is known to bring out some big names for the traditional show closing “With a Little Help from My Friends,” from the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. At the Greek Theatre, Starr introduced Gary Wright, Edgar Winter and Joe Walsh, who came out from the wings to provide harmonies on the classic tune. Ringo hugged everyone at the conclusion, bowed for the crowd and then left the stage along with the three special guests. The band started playing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” as Ringo returned to the stage for a brief version of the anti-war classic before exiting one last time.
The Ringo Starr All Starr Band is moving to Europe for the remainder of their 2018 tour. Graham Gouldman will not be joining them and played his final show at the Greek. Starr and his rotating cast of excellent musicians put on a magical show that every longtime fan really needs to see at least once in a lifetime. Be on the lookout for an announcement about another tour in the United States in 2019.