As a lifelong Beatles fan, I truly believed I was ready for all things Fab. But nothing could have prepared me for the sight of Ringo Starr singing “Matchbox” in a ghoul mask.
Starr and his All-Starr Band capped off their latest tour with a Halloween concert at Brooklyn’s newly restored —and impossibly opulent— Kings Theater. It was Starr’s first ever performance in the borough, and a crowd of 3,000 were determined to see that it wouldn’t be his last. The audience arrived in their costumed finery, looking like an outtake of the Sgt. Pepper cover brought to you by iParty.
I saw so many Beatle imposters that the sight of the real one caught me off guard—once he removed the mask. Although 75 (!), Starr appeared sprightly, slender, and far fitter than this 27-year-old as he danced around the spiderwebs and jack-o-lantern faces that decorated the appropriately spooky stage. He was flanked by the mighty All-Starrs, which presently includes Steve Lukather of Toto and Todd Rundgren on guitar, Gregg Rolie of Santana on keyboards and organ, Richard Page of Mr. Mister on bass, Gregg Bissonette on drums, and Warren Ham on saxophone. As it was the final night of their 21-date North American jaunt, the guys went full force.
Starr commanded the room with the gravitas and humor of a seasoned and particularly beloved late-night host. And musically, it was a performance every inch worthy of his new Rock Hall of Famer status. He followed “Matchbox” with his signature hit, “It Don’t Come Easy,” a tune that out-sold contemporary singles from all his fellow ex-Fabs upon release in 1971.
While it’s not really fair to compare the four, in many ways Ringo was the most charismatic of the Beatles. Though he only sang lead on 11 songs in the entire Beatles’ cannon, his sparkling personality and warmth made them all into multi-generational fan favorites. Moreover, he always seemed to be having the most fun—and that fun was infectious on Saturday night as he crooned “Yellow Submarine,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “Act Naturally.”
Though he offered nods to his late bandmates with the George Harrison-penned “Photograph” and John Lennon’s “I’m The Greatest,” the emotional highlight occurred when Starr tackled the Shirelles boop-shoo-wop classic, “Boys.” Best known as a cut from the Beatles’ debut Please Please Me, the song’s vintage actually dates back to the pre-Fab days when he was the drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. As Starr took his rightful place behind that beautiful Ludwig set, you were struck by a tidal-wave of history. He’s been doing this song for more than half a century! As he bashed away and proclaimed his adoration for males, all was right with the world. This was Ringo Starr getting back to where he once belonged and doing what he loves.
Rather than dive full force into his own formidable legacy, Starr made sure to give the All-Starr’s their own moments of glory. This led to killer versions of songs that many weren’t expecting, notably “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” from Greg Rolie’s days in Santana, Mr Mister’s “Broken Wings,” Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light,” and a trio of Toto hits. The confused look on a particularly disgruntled Beatlemaniac’s face, clearly wondering why he’s hearing “Rosanna” at a Ringo Starr show, was worth the price of admission. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Ringo Starr behind the kit on Rundgren’s “Bang The Drum All Day.”
The band launched into their “With A Little Help From My Friends” finale with a little help from Stevie Van Zandt and Max Weinberg of the E Street Band—and a crowd of 3,000 who couldn’t resist chiming in. Ringo’s songs are the ultimate sing-along songs, after all. It ultimately morphed into “Give Peace A Chance” on the coda, which seemed an appropriate place to end for the night. To quote Ringo’s favorite mantra: peace and love.
And, for tonight: trick or treat.