Review / setlist: Ringo Starr and friends bring a taste of the Beatles to Ruth Eckerd Hall
What is it like to see a Beatle in person?
The first Beatle I saw was Paul McCartney. This was before Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, in 2005, and it was at a press conference to preview his halftime performance. Sir Paul strode in as only he could, and everyone's hand shot into the air, because everyone wanted to say they asked him a question, because come on, this is a man whose music will be studied for centuries. Centuries! And he took it all in charming, impeccable stride.
And I was like: Whoa. That's a Beatle.
The second, and presumably final, Beatle I ever saw was Ringo Starr, Tuesday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He trotted onstage surrounded by his All Starr Band, a collective of classic rock figures who make up his touring group. He held his fingers in peace signs, and he swung his arms back and forth, and sang in that charming monotone. He cracked jokes, and was actually funny, which makes sense, because he is The Funny One, after all. And then he sat behind a drum kit, and wagged his head to that familiar backbeat, and I stared at him and realized that everyone who's ever played air drums has, at some point, imitated what Ringo Starr was doing right in front of me.
And I was like: Whoa. That's a Beatle.
Part of being a music fan is being able to say you were there when. You were there when Lady Gaga played G.Bar. You were there when Nirvana played the old Masquerade. You were there when Bruce Springsteen played the Tampa Jai Alai Fronton. You were there when Elvis Presley played the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. Wherever you were, you were there, and millions of other music fans wish they were there, too.
No one can ever go back to the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and two of the Beatles are already gone. I've seen McCartney in concert. That meant there was only Ringo left. In 50 years, I hope I'll get to bore my grandkids with stories of how I kinda-sorta saw half of the greatest pop-rock group that will ever exist. I was there when they still walked the earth.
Invariably, those future boring stories will bring me back to Tuesday night in Clearwater. Joining Starr on stage were singer-guitarists Rick Derringer and Wally Palmar (The Romantics), singer-bassist Richard Page (Mr. Mister), keyboardist Gary Wright, multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter and session whiz Gregg Bissonette backing up Ringo on drums.
It's a fun concept. Each artist gets to take the lead on two songs of their own, ensuring the audience gets a night chock-full of hits without much filler. I'd probably never go see any of these artists on their own, but all together? It's a little jukebox-musical gimmicky, but hey, jukebox musicals win Tony Awards, too. It's a fun time.
Starr led things off with his 1971 hit It Don't Come Easy, co-written with George Harrison, putting us all in a Beatles kind of mood. And after a couple more solo songs, it was time to spread the love.
Derringer, whose parents were in the audience, started with a massive singalong, Hang On Sloopy, from his days with The McCoys. The creepy-as-hell Winter followed with the irresistible Free Ride and Palmar offered Talking In Your Sleep. During all these songs, the 70-year-old Starr looked right at home atop his drum riser, out of the spotlight.
And then: I Wanna Be Your Man, written by Lennon and McCartney. It was one of four Beatles songs Ringo performed on the evening, including Boys (not written by the band, but still), Yellow Submarine and of course With a Little Help From My Friends. That's not including the songs Starr worked on with Harrison, such as Back Off Boogaloo and the wonderful Photograph.
It's not fair to focus solely on the tracks with Beatles touches. But hearing them for the first time live, sung by the man who sang them with Paul and John and George, it's hard not to feel a little awed. Even if that man is The Funny One.
There were other highlights on Tuesday. Richard Page sounds fantastic -- Kyrie and Broken Wings were both borderline chill-inducing (why isn't Mr. Mister touring again?). Palmar, looking short 'n' stout 'n' furry, lit up the crowd with the can't-miss What I Like About You. And the biggest ovation of the night came after Winter's tour de force performance of Frankenstein, during which he hopped from keyboard to sax to drums during an extended 6-minute monster boogie.
But then Starr closed the show with With a Little Help From My Friends, the most predictable ending since the boat sank in Titanic. And even though he doesn't have the finest voice, and even though Joe Cocker one-upped him with his Wonder Years version, you still hear him sing, and it strikes you that this is what it would sound like if the Beatles were all still alive and together, and they decided to play a few cuts from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, just for kicks.
And you think: Whoa. That's a Beatle.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*.SETLIST
1. It Don't Come Easy (Ringo Starr)
2. Honey Don't (Starr)
3. Choose Love (Starr)
4. Hang On Sloopy (Rick Derringer)
5. Free Ride (Edgar Winter)
6. Talking In Your Sleep (Wally Palmar)
7. I Wanna Be Your Man (Starr)
8. Dream Weaver (Gary Wright)
9. Kyrie (Richard Page)
10. The Other Side of Liverpool (Starr)
11. Yellow Submarine (Starr)
12. Frankenstein (Winter)
13. Peace Dream (Starr)
14. Back Off Boogaloo (Starr)
15. What I Like About You (Palmar)
16. Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo (Derringer)
17. Boys (Starr)
18. Love Is Alive (Wright)
19. Broken Wings (Page)
20. Photograph (Starr)
21. Act Naturally (Starr)
22. With a Little Help From My Friends / Give Peace a Chance (Starr)