When Ringo Starr jogged onstage at SPAC to kick off his performance with his six-piece All Starr band, the 78-year-old former Beatle looked trim and spry in black jeans and a blazer — and at least from afar could easily have passed for 40 years old.
The eternally youthful looking drummer, in sunglasses and a closely cropped beard, stayed at the front of the stage to sing a trio of opening songs — Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” his own “It Don’t Come Easy” and the Beatles’ “What Goes On” — as a psychedelic backdrop of stars swirled behind the stage.
“That’s the only song credited to Lennon, McCartney and Starkey,” Starr (aka Starkey) said of the latter tune. “I know what you’re thinking,” he added, pausing for deadpan delivery. “It should have been the other way around.”
He may not command the sheer electricity that his former Beatlemate Paul McCartney still does onstage, but with Ringo you always get Ringo, the cheeky performer who’s made a career out of poking fun at his lesser songwriting status in one of the most acclaimed bands of all time.
The crowd in the nearly full amphitheater was suitably charmed. Unfortunately, the SPAC lawn was nearly empty on a comfortably warm September night, as no tickets were sold there.
The crowd also didn’t seem to mind that Starr shared the night with his rotating cast of All Starr performers. That included singer-guitarist Colin Hay (Men at Work), guitarist Steve Lukather (Toto), singer-keyboardist Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey), saxophonist Warren Ham (Toto, Bloodrock), drummer Gregg Bissonette (Toto, Santana) and bassist-singer Graham Gouldman (10cc).
The night unfolded like a revue of songs that mixed decades, traversed continents and shuffled styles of music. But the star power onstage was sufficient that all the songs played were hits, from Santana’s “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” to Toto’s “Africa” to 100cc’s “The Things We Do for Love.”
Starr, whose drumming is deceptively simple but cited as massively influential, first took the kit behind the reggae-fied “Dreadlock Holiday,” sung by Gouldman, whose 10cc had a worldwide hit with the song that never fully broke through in the United States.
From there, the various performers alternated in showcasing some of their best-known songs. Hay led the crowd in call-and-response chants of “Hey Saratoga” during “Down Under” by Men at Work, and later added harmonica on the Starr-led version of the Beatles’ “Don’t Pass Me By.”
Aside from Ringo, the night’s most indispensable player may have been guitarist Steve Lukather, who shifted seamlessly from one song and style of playing to the next, from the Latin-fired “Oye Como Va” to the skiffle shuffle of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Ham, too, was a bit of an unsung hero, playing multiple instruments, adding the high vocal falsetto on Toto’s “Rosanna,” the bongos on the Santana tunes and wailing saxophone on Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?”
Of course, the night was still really about Ringo, and the two biggest moments were “Yellow Submarine” and the closer, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” the latter song providing the one truly goose-bump moment when the magic of the Beatles tune fully came though onstage.
The ever-energetic Starr was hopping up and down onstage for the last one. He started the show with a jog and ended it with jumping jacks.