BWW Reviews: Ringo's Stellar ALL-STARR BAND Shines Brightly at PPAC
Ringo Starr makes three promises at the top of his 2014 tour: fun, good music, and great songs. Without a doubt, he and his "All Starrs" deliver on that pledge, performing two non-stop hours of chart-topping hits and brand-new songs with undeniably exceptional musicianship.
Starr has traveled with a rotating group of singers, songwriters, and musicians since he founded the All-Starr Band in 1989. The "all-star" concept is no mere novelty; Starr surrounds himself with truly top-notch talent during every tour, with each member of the band demonstrating the superior skills that first brought them to and have long kept them in the international spotlight. The group's set list is fresh and re-energized as musicians come and go, bringing new songs and changing dynamics to the lineup every year.
The 2014 All-Starr Band features Mr. Mister's Richard Page, singer/songwriter Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie from Santana and Journey, Toto's Steve Lukather, drummer Gregg Bissonette, and singer/multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham. Most all of these men have been part of the All-Starr band for three seasons now, and they make several references to having formed a "musical brotherhood" during their travels.
The Providence audience was on its feet after virtually every song, and justifiably so. To begin with the "Starr" of the All-Starr show, Ringo Starr is the ideal leader of this eclectic band. A consummate showman, Starr is entirely in his element: charismatic, self-depreciating, and at his ease on stage. He establishes a welcoming rapport with the audience right at the start and continues joking and bantering with concert-goers throughout the set. Starr leads the band for several songs including "It Don't Come Easy," "Wings," "Yellow Submarine," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "Photograph," "Act Naturally" and, of course, "With a Little Help from My Friends." He also joins Bissonette on dual percussion performances for a good portion of the concert.
Starr is the heart and soul of the tour, but like any gracious host, he steps out of the spotlight to give his guest stars a chance to shine. Ham brings his outstanding musical talents to every song in the set, switching back and forth between bongos, saxophones, and the keyboard while also providing spot-on vocal harmonies. Bissonette shares the stage's riser with Ham, and his superior percussions keep the beat for the full two-hour performance. The sheer breadth and scope of Bissonette's body of work are impressive, and his skills are well-represented on tour through a genre-crossing range of rock anthems, country-tinged tunes, and pop standards.
Rolie, Santana's keyboardist and featured vocalist, leads the All-Stars in brilliant, ovation-garnering arrangements of his band's earliest and most enduring hit songs: "Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen," and an incandescent performance of "Oye Como Va" that simply brings down the house. Lukather - named one of the Top 10 Session Guitar Players by Gibson.com - partners expertly with Rolie on Santana's most demanding guitar pieces; likewise, he spotlights Toto's greatest hits with masterful solo work during chart-topping songs "Rosanna," "Africa," and the powerhouse "Hold the Line."
The ever-animated Rundgren shares his hits "I Saw the Light," "Love is the Answer," and an aerobically-energetic rendition of "Bang the Drum All Day," a song he at first quipped would be a recital, "in its entirety, [of] Ravel's 'Bolero.'" Page's strong vocals and bass playing frame his performances of Mr. Mister's uplifting "Kyrie" and the earnest "Broken Wings," and he greatly impresses with the debut of a really lovely, sophisticated new song titled "You are Mine."
As the All Starrs interact, their "brotherhood" shows through in their respectful professionalism, their musical proficiency, and in the genuine fun the band has on stage. Inside jokes and improvised dance routines popped up throughout the Providence performance, and small mishaps - such as a fumbled-and-dropped microphone during "I Wanna Be Your Man" - sent Rundgren, Page, Lukather, and Bissonette into laughter.
The 2014 tour's set and lighting design is kept to a minimum; a few three-dimensional stars hang along the back of the stage, while simple projections of spirals, peace signs and - naturally - an array of stars illuminate the rear wall. These touches provide just enough emphasis to compliment the concert's songs and stories, but they are also subtle enough to keep the audience's main focus exactly where it belongs: on the talented musical performances of a truly "All-Starr" band.
Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band played the Providence Performing Arts Center for one night only, Sunday, June 15, 2014. For information about the All-Starr Band's upcoming tour dates and appearances, please visit www.ringostarr.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly cited Rundgren's performance of "Love is the Answer" as a cover. Rundgren penned the song for Utopia in 1977.