Ringo Starr has been playing ringmaster for collections of onetime chartbusting rock stars since 1989 — and rock’s history is now so deep and diverse that it could staff an infinite number of combinations. For his 2001 tour, Ringo put together one of the most unlikely lineups yet — all new players except for music director/supersideman Mark Rivera — and while the caliber of music may not have been as consistently high as it was in earlier years, there’s still a lot of mileage left in the concept.
The show remains a live jukebox, or perhaps an oldies festival compressed into two hours and 15 minutes that still works on several levels. If you don’t care for one artist or tune, it’s just a short wait for the next — and the round-robin always eventually returns to Ringo and his universally appealing Beatles or solo hits. Even after so much repetition on tour, these musicians get a charge out of playing with each other, generating a cohesive energy that defies their ages and diversity. Everyone’s egos get massaged with two or three featured numbers apiece, yet there’s no question as to who’s the biggest legend onstage.
Ringo, at 61, is astonishingly limber and trim, with plenty of voice, and is still a marvelous drummer who keeps the band rock-solid on the beat. His own repertoire, however, has been chiseled into stone; there were no new numbers from him, just the usual standbys of earlier tours like “Photograph,” “Yellow Submarine,” “It Don’t Come Easy” and “The No No Song.” Yet Ringo was secure enough to share the drumming spotlight with the formidable Sheila E — a surprising choice who mostly tailored her style to fit with the straight-ahead rock idiom of much of the show.
As for this pack of All-Starrs, Greg Lake’s material held up the best by far, going all the way back to King Crimson for “The Court of the Crimson King,” skimming off the best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer with a winsome “Lucky Man” and a dynamic “Karn Evil 9” — with Sheila E and keyboardist Howard Jones nailing the latter’s complex arrangement. In descending order, Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) could still generate some flash and bash in “Cleveland Rocks,” Roger Hodgson’s light, piping voice on his hits with Supertramp (“The Logical Song,” “Take the Long Way Home”) is an acquired taste, and Jones’ tunes amount to mundane ’80s pop-rock.
Ringo’s shows here often receive unannounced guests and this time, it was Drew Carey, who kibbitzed during “Cleveland Rocks” and the entirely appropriate closer, “With a Little Help From My Friends.”