Photos by Arnold Goodman
There was nothing “usual” about the All-Starr Band’s performance, but not for the reasons one might have guessed. Like a perfect storm, events conspired to lift what should have been a good show into something out of the ordinary: Halloween night, the last show of the 2015 tour, and the renovated Kings Theatre.
Walking into the vaulted Kings Theatre is an experience unto itself. Renovated last February, the theatre first opened in 1929 as a “Loew’s Wonder Theatre,” for movies and live performances, but its fortunes declined rapidly during the Great Depression. Finally shuttered in 1977, it stood empty for 37 years, which turned out to be lucky, since it never underwent debilitating surgery to convert it to a multiplex. Today, $95 million later, the ornate French Baroque venue is nothing short of a 3,000-seat masterpiece. Ringo Starr—and probably 90% of his All-Starr Band—has undoubtedly played or visited every premiere venue in the world, but Starr and each band member remarked about the spectacular Kings Theatre, obviously enjoying their surroundings. One can only imagine how, after 50 years of touring the largest venues on the planet (think Shea Stadium), how refreshing it must feel to perform in a warm, spectacularly opulent setting. The band was in a good mood.
The band also was in a good mood because we happened to hit the final show of the tour. Last nights are almost always special, and this was no exception. Almost every band member talked about how close knit a group they’d become and mentioned the end of the tour, and that attitude showed in their playful performance, with Gregg Rolie and Steve Lukather physically fighting over piano riffs and shared laughter over a couple of missed cues. Starr himself joked, “It’s the last night, so I don’t care if you don’t come back.”
Last but not least, the entire band came out in costume for Halloween, and sang the entire opener dressed as ghouls, a werewolf and a teddy bear, with Starr out front, on vocals. At the end of the first tune, “Matchbox,” Starr threw his mask into the crowd, and the rest of the band disposed of their costumes.
Most band members chatted with the audience, Starr in particular. After the second song, “It Don’t Come Easy,” Starr told us he always tried to get the band (organized in 1989 but ever-changing) to write something together, and finally succeeded on a night in Biloxi “with nothing else to do.” Lucky for us that Biloxi’s pretty dull, because “Island In The Sun” is a good song, rock with R&B undertones.
By the fourth song, Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light,” Starr had installed himself at the center of three drum kits, and wailed. Each band member performed a few of their big hits, in rotation. High points included keyboardist Gregg Rolie (founding member of both Santana and Journey), reprising his vocals on “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman,” (which Rolie described as “one of my favorite songs”), Richard Page’s (Mr. Mister) vocals on “Kyrie Eleison,” and Toto’s “Africa,” performed by Toto guitarist Steve Lukather. Another Toto tune, “Rosanna,” produced one of the longest and most diverse jams of the evening, offering members opportunities to solo on what was obviously an All-Starr favorite song.
Predictably, however, the bulk of the tunes came from Starr’s catalogue, and the Beatles. Introducing “Don’t Pass Me By,” Starr said, “I wrote a lot of songs in the ’60s, but this was the first to be recorded. I thought, ‘Lennon and McCartney—watch out!,’ but they had nothing to worry about.” At one point, Starr wandered back and forth on the apron, and finally admitted to that he’d forgotten what the next song was. “Look at the floor!” (where most bands tape their set list) someone in the front row told him. Starr leaned out over the stage and goodnaturedly sneered, “That’ right, I’m in front of a bunch of New York City smartasses!” Introducing “Yellow Submarine,” he said, “If you don’t know the words, you’re in the wrong venue!” They launched into “Photograph” after Starr, a talented amateur photographer, said, “I love it when they light up the audience. I wish I had a big camera and I could take a photograph.” That song was another of the night’s special moments.
The last two numbers included guests Steve Van Zandt and Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, who came out to help out on an enthusiastic “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and the night’s closer, “Give Peace A Chance.” During “Friends,” the 75-year-old Starr performed jumping jacks a teenager would need stamina for, and threw the jacket he’d worn all night out into the crowd, giving some lucky fan a little taste of Heaven among the Starrs.