By John Curley
At one point during the terrific tour-closing show for Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band at Prudential Hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, New Jersey on Thursday, November 16th, guitarist Todd Rundgren told the audience that the current lineup of the band has been together for six years. It really shows. The band is incredibly tight. Just as important, they have a lot of fun onstage and seem to really enjoy each other’s company. In addition to Starr on drums and vocals and Rundgren, who has been in the bands The Nazz and Utopia in addition to his long solo career, on guitar, the band includes Toto’s Steve Lukather on guitar, bassist Richard Page of Mr. Mister, Gregg Rolie from Santana on keyboards, drummer Gregg Bissonette, and Warren Ham on saxophone, keyboards, and percussion. As usual, the show mixed Starr’s work with The Beatles and as a solo artist with that of the members of his band. The result was a crowd-pleasing concert that received quite a few standing ovations.
Starr is now 77, but is fit and spry. After the band took their places onstage, he sprinted out to join them and, clad in a shiny gold jacket, launched right into the cover of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” that opened the show. Rolie, Lukather, and Bissonette all did great work on the song, and it got a big reaction from the crowd. They followed that with a fantastic version of “It Don’t Come Easy” that gave saxophonist Ham a spotlight moment and brought the house down.
Prior to performing The Beatles’ “What Goes On,” Starr informed the crowd that it is the only Lennon-McCartney-Starkey composition. The song is a nice country-sounding tune that featured some fine guitar work by Luthaker. Rundgren then had his first moment in the spotlight, singing lead on a fantastic version of his solo song “I Saw The Light.” This was followed by a rip-roaring take on Willie Bobo’s “Evil Ways” featuring Rolie on vocals and keyboards that blew the roof off the place and received a massive reaction from the audience.
Lukather and Ham teamed up on a great extended version of Toto’s “Rosanna,” Lukather on vocals and guitar with Ham providing saxophone. Page then took center stage to perform Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie.” It was quite good, and received a big hand from the crowd. A bouncy version of Rundgren’s “Bang The Drum All Day” was up next, featuring Rundgren on lead vocals and playing a single drum. Rundgren threw in a bit of his solo hit “Hello It’s Me” to the crowd’s delight.
When Starr took lead-vocal duties on the cover The Shirelles’ “Boys,” it gave the audience a glimmer of what it must have been like to see The Beatles in concert. Singing while playing drums, Starr seemed to be having a grand time and appeared to get a kick out of seeing Lukather, Page, and Rundgren singing at one mic for a bit, Beatles style. Starr then got up from his kit, and taking center stage, led the band through a great version of the countrified Beatles song “Don’t Pass Me By.” It had been preceded by the band having a bit of fun by playing the opening to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” after Starr said that given the incredibly enthusiastic audience, one might think that they were seeing Led Zep. Starr remained at center stage for a wonderful take on The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” that had the crowd on its feet throughout.
Starr left the stage momentarily as the band tore through Santana’s “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” that featured Rolie and had great work by both Lukather and Bissonette. Starr then returned to front the band for Johnny Burnette’s “You’re Sixteen.” It was quite good and had great performances by both Rolie and Bissonette. Starr went back behind his kit for a stellar “Back Off Boogaloo.”
Page, on acoustic guitar and vocals, performed his solo song “You Are Mine” while Rundgren deputized on bass. It received a nice reaction from the audience. The band really seemed to enjoy performing the terrific extended take on Toto’s “Africa” that followed. And that enthusiasm continued with the performance of Tito Puente’s “Oye como va” that had Rolie on lead vocal.
One of the most enjoyable things about Starr’s concerts is that it is really clear that it is a band and not just Starr with a bunch of sidemen. And it seems like Starr gets quite a kick out of being just one of the guys in the band, like he was when he was pounding the skins for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in the smoky clubs of Liverpool in the early 1960s. In addition, since the band are all clearly huge Beatles fans, it seems like they are quite pleased to have Starr drumming behind them when they each take their turn in the spotlight.
As the show wound down, Starr was behind his kit and on lead vocals for The Beatles’ song “I Wanna Be Your Man” that got a big cheer from the crowd. Rundgren then performed Utopia’s “Love Is The Answer” that featured some great work by Ham on saxophone. Page followed with a performance of Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” that featured tight playing by the entire band and received a nice hand from the audience. And then quite a few people in the crowd got up to dance during the performance of Toto’s “Hold The Line” that had Lukather on lead vocal as well as providing some stellar playing during the guitar break.
The concert concluded with Starr fronting the band for the final songs. A terrific “Photograph” got a huge hand from the crowd and featured fantastic saxophone work by Ham. The cover of Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally” had a wonderful country vibe and received quite a reaction from the audience. The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” was extended to add a bit of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” to the end. Starr left the stage briefly after “With A Little help From My Friends” and returned to a big roar from the crowd to join with the band in singing the chorus of “Give Peace A Chance.” Starr then left the stage to massive cheers as the band finished the song and then took a group bow at center stage.
The fact that Starr performed “With A Little Help From My Friends” could be seen as him paying tribute to the band. They all really appear to be friends, and seemed genuinely sad that the tour had come to an end. But they closed the tour in the best possible way, by pulling out all the stops and giving the audience their all. There were many smiles on the faces of the audience members as they filed out of Prudential Hall after the show.
The setlist was as follows:
Matchbox (cover of Carl Perkins song with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
What Goes On (cover of song by The Beatles with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
I Saw The Light (Todd Rundgren song with Rundgren on lead vocal)
Evil Ways (cover of song by Willie Bobo with Gregg Rolie on lead vocal)
Rosanna (cover of song by Toto with Steve Lukather on lead vocal)
Kyrie (cover of song by Mr. Mister with Richard Page on lead vocal)
Bang The Drum All Day (Todd Rundgren song with Rundgren on lead vocal)
Boys (cover of song by The Shirelles with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
Don’t Pass Me By (cover of song by The Beatles with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
Yellow Submarine (cover of song by The Beatles with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen (cover of song by Santana with Gregg Rolie on lead vocal)
You’re Sixteen (cover of song by Johnny Burnette with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
You Are Mine (Richard Page song with Page on lead vocal)
Africa (cover of song by Toto with Steve Lukather on lead vocal)
Oye como va (cover of song by Tito Puente with Gregg Rolie on lead vocal)
I Wanna Be Your Man (cover of song by The Beatles with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
Love Is The Answer (cover of song by Utopia with Todd Rundgren on lead vocal)
Broken Wings (cover of song by Mr. Mister with Richard Page on lead vocal)
Hold The Line (cover of song by Toto with Steve Lukather on lead vocal)
Photograph (Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
Act Naturally (cover of song by Buck Owens with Ringo Starr on lead vocal)
With A Little Help From My Friends (cover of song by The Beatles with Ringo Starr on lead vocal, included chorus of Give Peace A Chance with entire band on vocals)