The legendary Ringo Starr brought his All-Starr Band back to Milwaukee Saturday night as part of his latest U.S. tour, performing at the Miller High Life Theatre, right next door to the Arena, where the Beatles performed in September 1964.
The band – which currently includes guitarists Colin Hay and Steve Luthaker, bassist Hamish Stuart, keyboardist Edgar Winter, drummer Gregg Bissonette and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham – played a solid two-hour set that mixed Ringo material from the Beatles and his solo years, as well as hits from the careers of the band members.
Hay was the frontman of Men at Work, Luthaker was a member of Toto and Stuart was in Average White Band. The only members who did not get to the lead their own tunes were Bissonette – though he got a showcase during Winter’s “Frankenstein” – and Ham. Both, however, anchored the band with their skills.
Though Starr has released a trio of EPs in the past couple years, with another slated for release in October (and a fifth ready to go), you wouldn’t know it from the setlist. That’s because Starr surely knows his crowd and what’s expected of him ... and it's not unfamiliar new songs.
Ringo performs nearly all the songs he sang with the Fab Four – “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Honey Don’t” and “Good Night” being exceptions – and a short list of solo hits, from 1971’s “It Don’t Come Easy” to 1972’s “Back Off Boogaloo” to 1973’s “Photograph” and “I’m the Greatest,” penned for him by John Lennon.
For most of these songs, Ringo was centerstage holding a mic, though occasionally, he’d sing from the drum kit.
While the others played their own hits, like Men At Work’s “Down Under,” Winters’ “Free Ride,” Toto’s “Africa” and Average White Band’s, “Pick Up the Pieces,” Starr accompanied on drums in a two-pronged attack alongside Bissonette.
For two tunes – AWB’s “Cut the Cake” and Winter’s “Frankenstein” – Starr left the stage altogether, headed, he quipped, to the dressing room to drink his juice. He returned having changed clothes and looking refreshed.
During his absence, things went a tad awry as Winter seemed stumped about to proceed when his legendary strap-on keyboard malfunctioned. After a crew member took it offstage to troubleshoot, Luthaker went over and hugged Winter, eliciting “awwwwws” from the crowd.
Otherwise, everything ran smoothly enough, which is unsurprising since the setlist has not apparently changed at all during the tour, the autumn leg of which kicked off Sept. 15 in Lake Tahoe. A spring leg ran from mid-May into June.
The venue was packed and the scene outside before the show was unlike any I can recall in recent memory in Downtown Milwaukee, with lines from the venue doors running along Kilbourn Avenue and turning north up Vel Phillips Avenue.
And it makes sense. It behooves one to see Starr in concert while it's still possible.
Having turned 83 in July, Ringo may not tour again, though as he said in a recent Associated Press video interview, he has often said a tour was to be his last, but then got the itch to hit the road again out of a sheer love of performing.
(Starr's most recent previous Milwaukee appearance was at the BMO Harris Pavilion in 2018.)
Starr looks like he’s having a great time on stage and one of the interesting things about the All-Starr Band is its seemingly disparate lineup. The MOR pop of Toto, the bassist from the funky ‘70s Average White Band, the man behind “Frankenstein” and the guy who wrote “Who Can It Be Now?” – how ever could that combination work?
But it does, because everyone gets a turn in the spotlight and the others all look pleased as pie to be offering support.
I could pick nits about Starr’s steering clear of anything he’s done from 1974 forward, but, really, who cares? As one of two surviving Beatles, the chance to see him perform live is something not to be missed.
This was my third time seeing Starr with the band – although each time has had a somewhat different lineup – and I’d happily go back for more.
It Don't Come Easy
What Goes On
Free Ride (Edgar Winter)
Rosanna (Steve Lukather)
Pick Up the Pieces (Hamish Stuart)
Down Under (Colin Hay)
I'm the Greatest
Cut the Cake (Hamish Stuart, no Ringo)
Frankenstein (Edgar Winter, no Ringo)
Back Off Boogaloo
Overkill (Colin Hay)
Africa (Steve Lukather)
Work to Do (Hamish Stuart)
I Wanna Be Your Man
Johnny B. Goode (Edgar Winter)
Who Can It Be Now? (Colin Hay)
Hold the Line (Steve Lukather)
With a Little Help From My Friends
Give Peace a Chance (reprise)
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.