Last night, I had a really weird dream. Check it out...
I was at Potawatomi Bingo Casino's Northern Lights Theater at a table down in front, just right of center and who was on stage but Ringo Starr. Because I've been a music geek since I discovered the Beatles right around the period when I learned to tell time (no exaggeration, really!), it's not unheard of to encounter a legendary rocker during REM sleep.
But here's the strange part: he was playing with a band that included Billy Squier, Gary "Dream Weaver" Wright, Colin "Men at Work" Hay, Hamish "Average White Band" Stuart, Edgar "Frankenstein" Winter and able session drummer Greg Bissonette.
Creepy, right? Why would Ringo Starr need a drummer?! And can there be anything more surreal than witnessing Colin Hay play "Frankenstein" with Edgar Winter and sing "Stroke me, stroke me" with Billy Squier?!
It all took place with flickering stars in the background in a sold-out Northern Lights room.
Oh, wait, I wasn't sleeping during all this; it was a real appearance in Milwaukee by Ringo Starr and his 10th All-Starrs Band! I admit, however, there were a couple moments -- during the extended irrelevance of "Frankenstein," for example - that I'd have preferred sleep.
What seems most surreal to me -- avowed enemy of nostalgia tours and band reunions aimed solely at boosting bank balances -- was that I had a good time.
Starr is the consummate showman. He may have been the "fourth Beatle," but Starr never gave in. He ratcheted up his great personality and was every bit as much a Beatle as John, Paul or George.
Dressed entirely in black, although with highlighted elements that glisten under the lights, Starr is supremely comfortable onstage, ready with a witty quip and constantly making eye contact with audience members.
And if his show smacks of rock and roll cabaret, we should remember that his first two solo discs were entire sets of covers of country and western and American pop songbook classics. And most of his vocal appearances with the Beatles were light-hearted fare - "Yellow Submarine," "Octopus' Garden" - and country and rock and roll covers - "Boys," "Matchbox," "Act Naturally."
As lead singer and band leader, Starr is an able front man, but his show is dubbed "Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band" and Ringo isn't the type to leave others languishing outside the limelight. And, so after "What Goes On" and a couple other numbers, Starr sat behind the drum kit and backed up - along with Bissonette - all of the others as they played one of their recognizable hits.
This mix of Ringo and his cohorts continued for the duration of the exactly two-hour show. When Ringo is the star, everything seems right. We bask in his reflected glow, perhaps thinking that this may be the only time we get to be 10 feet away from a Beatle.
When the others step up, it's a mixed bag, although the 50-something crowd eagerly laps up every morsel: When Wright played a relatively new tune, or the second single from his "Dream Weaver" disc (yes, of course, he played the title track, too), "Love is Alive"; when Winter diddled at length and tried not to look self-conscious while "rocking out" with his strap-on keyboard; and, especially, when the now unassuming-looking Squier cranked it up to 11, let out that howl he does and played "The Stroke" and "Lonely Is the Night" (odd that he didn't choose "Everybody Wants You").
Milwaukee clearly remembers Squier.
The surprises, for me, were how much I enjoyed Hay and Stuart. Never a fan of Men at Work, Hay's quick wit and great renditions of songs I never cared about -- "Down Under," "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Overkill" -- made him a pleasant surprise.
Even more so, I loved bassist Stuart, whose full-body enthusiasm never faltered during the show. Whether playing "Yellow Submarine," "Dream Weaver" or "Free Ride," he was clearly having a great time. And when he stepped up to the mic to sing his Average White Band's cover of the Isleys' "Work to Do," this guy -- who looks like a slender, cheery Scots granda -- opened his mouth and revealed the voice of a blue-eyed soul angel.
Starr played some relatively new music, too, including the title track from his newest disc, "Liverpool 8," released in January. But that material isn't what anyone really came to hear and the fact that there weren't more than a few new tunes suggests Ringo knows that.
While Wednesday night's show -- one of 31 dates across the U.S. and Canada this summer -- wasn't as Ringo-centric as I'd have liked, there were a few pleasant surprises.
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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.