By Doug Koztoski
With mostly a full moon visible through the summer haze, a rock and roll legend posed the questions he is most famous for: “What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would stand up and walk out on me?”
The answer to the second question on an August weekend at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, just outside Washington, D.C. was “yes and no,” as much of the near capacity crowd stood and joined in with Ringo Starr and his bandmates in the drummer/singer/songwriter’s “All-Starr” band as they led thousands of patrons in “With a Little Help From My Friends,” perhaps his signature vocal piece from his Beatles’ days.
While “With a Little Help” was the last song of the two-hour set at the Northern Virginia venue, much of what took place on stage and in the shadows of the seats that comfortable evening delivered a similar outcome.
The concert opened with Ringo jaunting to center stage sporting a peace sign t-shirt and a sparkly jacket while he and his seasoned hand-picked crew performed the Carl Perkins version of “Matchbox,” a cover The Beatles did early in their career.
Next up: Starr’s 1970s hit “It Don’t Come Easy.” At this point it all seemingly came quite easily and joyfully for the roving band of rockers, followed by one of the few songs Ringo scored a writing credit alongside John Lennon and Paul McCartney: “What Goes On.”
After that trio of tunes, Mr. Starkey, who turned 79 in July, worked his way up to the drums and let his able roster share some of their best-known tunes and covers: Gregg Rolie on keyboards (Santana, Journey) with a great rendition of Santana’s “Evil Ways,” guitarist Steve Lukather (Toto) and saxophonist/flautist/keyboards/vocalist Warren Ham (Toto, Kansas) with Toto’s “Rosanna,” guitarist Hamish Stuart (Average White Band and Paul McCartney) with AWB’s “Pick Up the Pieces,” then guitarist Colin Hay of Men at Work did the Australian band’s “Down Under.”
Ringo then took the lead of The Shirelles cover “Boys,” which he did in his Beatle days, and then he worked his way back to center stage for a pair of Fab Four covers: “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Yellow Submarine.”
After the sub submerged into the night, Starr announced that the next couple of songs were “Magical Musical Moments,” then he left the stage for about a dozen minutes while leaving all the drumming to Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, ELO, Toto).
Bissonette also contributed some trumpet work.
Ringo was right, the moments contained magic: AWB’s “Cut the Cake,” and Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.”
Upon returning, the second half of the show contained a handful of Starr associated hits, whether originally covers or not, “You’re Sixteen,” “Anthem,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Photograph,” and “Act Naturally,” as well as some more channeling of Men at Work, Toto, Santana and also the The Isley Brothers, all done with crisp precision and infectious camaraderie.
Once again Wolf Trap’s sound mix and solid lighting allowed the crowd to smoothly absorb the rock and pop history before them. The night’s only drawback, if you can even call it that, came when the show concluded and it was mildly noticeable that Ringo did not perform more of his 70s hits, namely “Back Off Bugaloo,” and “Oh My My,” or the lesser known “Never Without You,” from the early 2000s, a tribute song to George Harrison, his former close friend and fellow Beatle.
While “With a Little Help” characterized the evening and the night’s last complete song, Mr. Peace and Love & Co. rounded out the event with the chorus from the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance,” appropriate on many levels, kind of like Ringo on the drum riser or standing and grooving on stage with his buds, all still keeping good time.