by John M. Borack
The over and under on “Peace and Loves” was twelve as Ringo Starr and his All-Starr band recently visited Orange County, CA for the first time in more than fifteen years. Ringo brought out the heavy artillery for the two-hour-long show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa: not only did he front his latest band on a dozen of his classic Beatles and solo tunes, but he allowed his six-pack of All-Starrs – talented players and singers all – to do their collective thing on another dozen of their own classic rock staples. (“If you don’t know this song, you’re in the wrong venue,” Starr remarked at one point.) The result was a hugely entertaining sonic trip down memory lane with assistance from Todd Rundgren on rhythm guitar, Gregg Rolie (Santana) on keyboards, Steve Lukather (Toto) on lead guitar, Richard Page (Mr. Mister) on bass, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Warren Hamm and drummer Gregg Bissonette.
The well-heeled, capacity crowd at the usually sedate Segerstrom Center for the Arts was on their feet and rocking for most of the evening, and not only when Ringo brought the Beatles numbers such as “Matchbox,” “Boys,” “What Goes On” and “I Wanna Be Your Man” – the songs that the All-Starrs took the lead on were received nearly as warmly. This is the twelfth and longest running incarnation of the All-Starr Band – “If we make it another year, we’ll have outlasted the Beatles,” Rundgren joked early on – and it’s clear that this is a lot more than just a bunch of guys playing each other’s songs for a quick cash grab. These All-Starrs are indeed a band, and one that features some stellar musicianship and tight ensemble playing and singing, whether it was Lukather’s fabulous extended guitar solo on the Rolie-sung version of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” the impeccable harmony vocals supporting Page on Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie,” or the wonderfully atmospheric versions of the Toto classics “Rosanna” and “Africa,” which found Lukather ably supported on lead vocals by Hamm and Page, respectively.
But of course, the star of the show was Ringo, who kept the crowd on their feet with spirited renditions of “Photograph,” “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo” (kudos to guitar hero Lukather for his slide work here). Starr alternated between being out front and manning the second drum kit, but always played the genial master of ceremonies, which added to the evening’s party atmosphere.
Other high points included the wacky Rundgren taking center stage on the power pop classic “I Saw the Light” and the stupidly catchy “Bang the Drum All Day” (“my favorite song in the entire set,” he enthused), Rolie – looking more than a bit like Wolfman Jack these days – taking the lead on “Evil Ways,” and Ringo sitting behind the keyboard for the beginning of a rousing take of the Beatles’ “Don’t Pass Me By,” which featured Rundgren adding some blasts of harmonica.
During a break in the evening’s action, Ringo gazed out at the appreciative crowd while soaking in the applause and said, “I like being in a band.” He’s certainly got a good one, and on this night he did more than get by with a little help from his friends.