July 12, 2011
Review by Jeff Jones
Photos by Jeff Jones
Ringo Starr - Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band
Honestly, I was still patting myself on the back, as I walked from the train station in Dusseldorf, Germany to The Phillipshalle concert arena. I had gotten myself a photo pass for the Ringo Starr & his All-Starrs show, and this was one performance on my itinerary that was extremely important to me. It also would satisfy a demand from Jam Magazine editor David Huff before I left Dallas, Texas on my two-week European festival jaunt.
"Listen to me Jeff," he barked into the phone, "I don't care what you have to do, or say, to get into concerts over there. Use the Jam Magazine name to get into shows not coming to the U.S. I don't care who is performing. You call management and tell them you work for Jam. One look at the website, one look at the reviews and photos you've submitted for posting and no one will question your credentials as a journalist. Trust me! I know what I'm talking about. Do not, and I repeat, do not come back to this country without some great stuff. And Jeff, this is not a request."
That last command was still ringing in my ears as I picked up my media credentials at the box office. Walking into the venue, every seat was filled in the 7,500 seat Phillipsehalle, or the Mitsubishi Electric Hall that it's now called. There was a group of some 17 photographers from the surrounding area present to capture the second of five shows Ringo would perform in Germany. I was looking forward to the experience of shooting alongside them. All were amazed to find out I was from Texas, and extremely polite. As we were escorted to the pit in front of the stage, my only real concern was the lighting. Fortunately, when the lights in the arena went down, and the backdrop lighting lit up the stage, it made for ideal shooting conditions.
The great Edgar Winter led the parade of ‘All-Starrs' onto the stage. Ringo was the last one out, and promptly held court center stage with his classic, "It Don't Come Easy". After a brief schmooze-fest with the crowd, the band started in on the Beatles number, "Honey Don't". Between songs there were lots of ‘We love you Ringo' shout outs. The drummer responded in kind by flashing his trademark peace sign along with verbal wishes of peace and love for everyone. For the benefit of the assembled photographers, Ringo sang the first half of "Choose Love" front and center, before retreating to his drum kit to bang out the rest of the song.
As we were ushered out of the pit, Ringo introduced Rick Derringer. He told the crowd Rick's first band, The McCoys, recorded the next song in the '60s and it became a worldwide hit. As I walked out with the photographers, I heard the opening notes to "Hang on Sloopy". Standing in a hallway outside the security office, it was kind of funny to hear the entire audience transform itself into a giant choir, to accompany Derringer's vocals. I was escorted back to the soundboard in time to see Ringo introduce Edgar Winter. Though the audience was polite, they just didn't get the fact they were going to hear music from a true musical icon. The assembled cast promptly started playing the hit "Free Ride" from his breakthrough album, They Only Come Out at Night. Ironically, Rick Derringer was a member of the Edgar Winter Band at the time, and played on that monumental recording.
The next 'Starr' to take his turn at the mic was The Romantics founder Wally Palmer. The guitarist sang his group's signature hit, "Talking in Your Sleep". Ringo once again returned to his ringmaster duties, and performed another Beatles song, before introducing former Spooky Tooth member, Gary Wright. The keyboardist was a good friend of George Harrison back in the day, and played on his legendary 1974 album, All Things Must Pass. As Wright chatted up the audience about living for their dreams, the opening chords to his classic song, "Dream Weaver" echoed throughout the building. The German crowd got up and began swaying to and fro as Wright beautifully recreated the tune on stage. Next up was noted songwriter and bassist for Mr. Mister, Richard Page. He casually mentioned a few of the older people in the crowd would remember this 25-year old tune, and began singing his band's No. 1 hit, "Kyrie".
Ringo entertained the crowd with some more stories, another song, "The Other Side of Liverpool", before teasing the audience to guess the next sing-a-long song. As soon as he instructed Rick Derringer to strike up the band to play his mystery tune, the entire auditorium broke into "Yellow Submarine." Without a doubt, this was the song the German crowd was waiting for. At first, I was amazed to find out that Germany hosted as many shows as England did on this tour. As the show progressed, it made sense. The people in this country love the former Beatle, and had no problem vocalizing that support. However, for the handful of Americans in the audience, for them the best was yet to come - Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein".
The legendary Texas artist was the first musician to ever put a strap on his keyboards. Edgar told the audience he simply grew tired of never being seen during a concert because his movements were restricted. The tune the crowd was about to hear was specifically written to showcase his new invention. As the musical great strapped on his keyboard innovation, the opening notes to "Frankenstein" emerged. Outside of the Americans in the audience, few people reacted to the tune. To my amazement, most the Germans just kind of watched the artists on stage go through the motions instead of standing up to cheer. In the States, "Frankenstein" has always been considered a classic ‘rock anthem' much like Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" or Skynyrd's "Free Bird". Despite the German snub, the 65-year old musician's interaction with Rick Derringer (who played on the original tune) and drummer Gregg Bissonette, was exceptional. Winter not only showcased his amazing keyboard talents, he even played the sax and drums, often trading runs with Derringer and Bissonette. This song was the definite show stopper of the night, even if the Germans didn't think so.
After the instrumental masterpiece concluded, Ringo came back to lead everyone in "Back Off Boogaloo". The band then launched into another Romantics hit, "What I Like About You", then tackled the Rick Derringer classic, "Rock and Roll Hootchiecoo". The crowd bounced around and sang every word as Rick showed off his guitar chops. Gary Wright finally reemerged to lead the ‘All-Starrs' in his other classic, "My Love is Alive." Richard Page slowed things down a bit with a great cover of his band's other No. 1 hit "Broken Wings". As the concert wound down, Ringo pulled out a couple more of his solo gems, and concluded the evening with "With a Little Help from My Friends".
Ringo's 27-date romp through Europe began June 4 in Kiev. I caught the tail end of his tour that ended a week later in Vienna, Austria. Though his voice seemed a bit worn, there was little doubt he had assembled true all-star talent, for this 13th edition of his traveling road show. Boarding the subway for the trip back to my hotel, I was approached by five or six people who were just as curious about Ringo's voice as I had been. Having a camera and photo pass, they seemed to think I would have answers to the question. They were right. I told the assembled few that Ringo had just turned 71 three days before the show. This was the tail end of his European tour that started five weeks earlier. Add the two up, and it was easy to see why his voice seemed a bit worn. That satisfied the curious and even convinced me.
Over all, this was a high energy, well-paced show with amazing harmonies and melodies wherever you turned. It was also a real treat to attend this show in a foreign country. By the way, you've got to be impressed with a group of veteran musicians, all in the twilight of their careers, who don't mind reliving their past ‘moments in the sun'. Talk about music history in its full glory. On a side note, I was unable to find an Internet connection, so I texted this entire review on my iPhone, during the long subway trip back to where I was staying. I'm kind of feeling like an ‘all-Starr' myself right now!