Ringo, all-star group make El Paso tour stop memorable
It’s hard to believe that Ringo Starr had never performed in El Paso before the Beatles legend and his All-Starr Band sold out the Abraham Chavez Theatre on Monday night.
The very rare chance to see one of two living Beatles (the other is some guy named McCartney, who has played around here before) went a long way to explain why the ACT was packed with 2,400 aging rockers, their kids and maybe even a few grandkids. It didn’t hurt that Ringo, who never mentioned his old band by name, brought along some hit-making star power, including Toto guitarist and ace ‘70s-‘80s session player Steve Lukather, Santana organist and Journey cofounder Gregg Rolie, the always colorful Todd Rundgren, and Mr. Mister’s low-key singer-bassist Richard Page.
They’ve got dozens of hits between them, two dozen of which made it into Monday’s two-hour show, an occasionally uneven performance that ranged from outright fun to Vegas cheesy (fitting since this tour started with an eight-show residency there) to inspirationally communal.
The spry, thin, fit 77-year-old, with the trademark short-cropped hair, scruffy beard and sunglasses, alternated comfortably between being the singer and frontman and playing a supporting role behind the drums, in tandem with the more forceful playing of Gregg Bissonette. Starr also plunked out the ambling keyboard intro of his “White Album” contribution, “Don’t Pass Me By,” and, in what must have been some kind of first, played cajon on Page’s understated ballad “You Are Mine,” a relatively new song and unexpected highlight in a show full of familiar hits from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Page’s song was one of two played Monday that was released this decade. The other, “Give More Love,” the title track from Starr’s new album, wasn’t very giving. It sounded disjointed, and Starr looked lost, cutting it short before things got any worse. “I didn’t like the way that was going,” he said, before launching into “Back Off Boogaloo,” one of his first post-Beatles hits.
Ringo always has been limited as a singer, but he doesn’t push it too far, he’s got charisma to spare and a large body of work as a Beatle and solo artist from which to draw. On Monday, he sprinkled a few solo hits, like “Photograph” and his version of Johnny Burnette’s Sherman Brothers-penned “You’re Sixteen,” among a generous serving of obvious and obscure Beatles songs. They included a playful “Yellow Submarine,” a bluesy version of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” and a take of “I Wanna Be Your Man” that never took off. The finale of the now 50-year-old “Sgt. Pepper’s” classic “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which ended with a snippet of “Give Peace a Chance,” was especially energetic. “Octopus’s Garden” didn’t make the cut.
There were more highs than lows in a mostly easygoing, occasionally high-energy, sometimes sloppy show, which spread the spotlight evenly among the star and his main “all-starrs.” At times, particularly on Rolie’s Latin-flavored Santana-era songs, the band was in the pocket, prompting Starr to crack that “Rolie’s got me playing Latin American.” Lukather’s Toto songs — “Rosanna,” “Africa” and “Hold the Line” — got some of the best crowd response, but the vocals were often wobbly.
The eclectic Rundgren turned in one of the most soulful vocals of the night on his Utopia hit “Love Is the Answer,” but “Bang on the Drum All Day,” his ska-flavored ode to shiftlessness, felt out of place. Page’s reedy vocals got buried in the mix on Mr. Mister’s airy “Kyrie,” but they stood out on the band’s biggest hit, “Broken Wings.”
This 12th incarnation of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, which includes versatile former Bloodrock singer and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham, is his longest tenured at five years and counting. He’s been touring with some version of the band — which has included Peter Frampton, Dr. John, The Who’s John Entwistle, Nils Lofgren and Billy Preston — since 1989, a year after he detoxed and recommitted to playing music. “I love playing live,” he said early in the show. After Rolie’s soulful “Black Magic Women,” Ringo turned to the crowd and asked, “Was that magical? Was that musical? That’s all that counts.”
What counted Monday night is that a lot of people, many of whom probably never have seen the Beatles or a Beatle in concert, got to see one who had never performed here before. Will he return? Tomorrow never knows.