Ringo Starr and the Roundheads with guest Colin Hay, at Genesee Theatre, Waukegan, Illinois, June 24th, 2005

REVIEW by Mark Drobnick (06-27-2005)

Beatle Ringo Starr and his musicians brought down the house, Friday, June 24th, at the recently renovated, Genesee Theatre, here, in Waukegan, Illinois. Ringo declared the acoustics “great”, and indeed they were, the mix right, the volume appropriate, so that PBS’ Soundstage was enabled to record the event flawlessly, for this {a future} Thursday’s broadcast. Twenty-one songs over one hour and forty-five minutes began and ended punctually, and were interpreted constantly, throughout.

Having guest Colin Hay integrated into, segued in and out, a couple of times, was a novel and successful approach to including a “warm-up” band. However, the crowd needed no warm-up, when at 8:00 p.m., Mr. Richard Starkey took the stage. The crowd was all ready for non-stop Ringo, from the get-go. Performer and crowd intermeshed in perfect “synchronicity”, feeding one upon another; us, bouncing to his music; he, reacting to our appreciation. And the fan uniform? Why, half the audience members wore some kind of memorabilia, Ringo T-shirts of some shape and form, adornments, Ringo license plates, etc. His fans came psyched and prepared.

Most of the songs that night, his fans (including myself), knew by heart. So, Ringo received ample, back-up sing-along, as to both stanzas and chorus, for standards like, “Little Help from My Friends”, “It Don’t Come Easy”, “Octopus’ Garden”, “Wanna Be Your Man”, “Photograph”, “Boys”, “Act Naturally”, and “Yellow Submarine”.

Coincidentally, chronologically, Beatle Paul’s “When I’m Sixty-four” could have been an appropriate inclusion. But, another reality is that Ringo looks and acts as if he was twenty years younger than he is. So that, even the fans present who have been fortunate enough to have followed him since the Beatles became well-known, four decades ago, all felt and behaved as enthusiastic, euphoric teen-agers, during last Friday’s concert.

Actor Roger Moore (Ringo’s wife’s one-time, movie co-star) once quipped to Johnny Carson, gibing at Ringo’s thespian abilities, well he is a (good) drummer, after all, isn’t he? Yes, Mr. Moore, and also (he is) a very good actor, too. (My kids, by the way, especially like Ringo, in Help and Caveman; so do Mom and Dad.) Ringo’s presence on-stage at the Genesee was able to exude and impart peace and love and the feel-good aura that the Beatles generated in their heyday. Nobody does it better, Ringo; you’re the one. Also, I was reminded of Beatle George’s comment to Dick Cavett once: there’s so much goodwill carried on over from the Beatle days, that --- to paraphrase --- it’s easy and prepared for us now with our solo careers, that gives us that added handicap, to be able to hit the ground running, in what we do today.

From his newest album, Ringo included only two songs, the title track, and, “Give Me Back the Beat”, two excellent choices. Also, it would have been a good idea to have included, “Fading In Fading Out”, well-produced, catchy, up-beat, inspirational, and wise, from Ringo, “the philosopher”. When he geared up for “Give Me Back the Beat”, standing stage center before a conga-style drum, surprise and expectation made me ask, “what next?” and of all musical stylists, think of Tito Puente! But, not unexpectedly, interpreted, was more, straight-on, mainstream, rock and roll.

“Don’t Pass Me By”, declaimed Ringo, was the first tune he ever wrote; I guess he meant, solo. “Flying” had preceded it, from Magical Mystery Tour, where he’s listed as co-author. But, from the “white album”, at its performance’s outset, was heard an audible gasp of astonishment and awe from Friday’s audience, when Ringo sat down at the Peter Max adorned piano, and began its instrumental accompaniment, himself doling out the harmonizing chords. I guess we just didn’t know enough about the scope and range of his musical versatility.

He has always carried a tune very well and has a distinct-trademark, solid, instantly recognizable, musical voice. His material, predominantly written by him, sometimes by others, is all tailored to coincide within his vocal range. So, the rendition is fluid, commanding, and steady.

The new album, musically evokes, in half of its numbers, his ex-partners’ musical signatures, sounds, and styles. At first listen, one might believe that they had been penned and/or performed by his one-time collaborators, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. In particular, “Choose Love” evokes, as part of its trademark riff and rhythm, a re-incarnation of Harrison’s “Taxman”, and, it includes lyrical allusions to Lennon-McCartney songs, as well. On the other hand, “Give Me Back the Beat” and “Fading In Fading Out”, to my way of listening, are complete Ringo originals.

On sale, in the lobby, beside C.D.’s of Ringo’s latest music, were samples of his paintings. Sale prices ranged from $1,000 to $3,200 each, with proceeds going 100% to the charitable Lotus foundation, Ringo’s organization dedicated to alcohol and drug-abuse rehabilitation.

Throughout the night’s revue, Ringo was, 75% of the time, standing before the microphone singing, and, doing some ad-libbing and small talk with the audience; the remainder of the time, he was ascendant at his drum throne, behind. Each time he returned to “Olympus” there sounded an audible sigh of appreciation, of eagerness, anticipating enjoyment, expectation of what was to come next.

Waves of adulation recrudesced throughout the evening. Ringo commented, “this song was written by John Lennon about me, and he knew me very well,” then launched into, “I’m The Greatest”. Current right-hand man, guitarist Mark Hudson, worked the audience, several times: “What’s his (aka Billy Shears) name?” Audience: Ringo, RIngo, RINgo, RINGO, R-I-N-G-O!!! Then The Man solicited: Who am I? Audience: R-I-N-G-O!!!! (I, feeling festively contrary, shouted, “Richard”; “move to Waukegan!”) Anyway, our city’s guest of honor seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed basking in the emotional outpouring. And, who could begrudge him? It was certainly fulfilling and gratifying to be a participant in those waves of emotional deluge.

In his pre-concert press interview, he mentioned his son Zak’s music; he’s a drummer, too. Along with John and, later on, Paul, then finally, George, they always were family lads, from the inceptive days of their fame. So, for those of us who grew up in a framework resembling family, this was an aspect that made them easier to relate to, as well. Show biz, disciplined, always novel, and even pompous, for performance; down-to-earth, understandable, genuine, likeable, and real, in person.

Publicity about the event only started about six weeks prior to its happening. It should be the warm-up for many more Ringo projects to come in the near future. The sold-out, 2,400-seat venue for the re-appearance of this legend afforded an intimacy which is scarcely encountered with someone of his stature.

He has never taken himself too seriously, perhaps another key to his appeal and longevity. He continues to play hard-beat, rocking music, and himself admits that in ten more years, the only thing he still may have the capacity to play fast enough would be slow-paced blues and ballads, such as the Billy Preston collaboration on the, Choose Love album. He is comfortable in both his skin and with life. His longevity with mate Barbara Bach (Starkey), who is a musical contributor on the song, “Turnaround”, is reassuring and comforting. We are inspired that, like Ringo, there are some icons and institutions which, seemingly, will always be there for us.

The Roundheads is an excellent band that he has belonged to for five years, now. These gentlemen are all very talented performers and writers. And, they are “a nice bunch of guys”, comments Roundhead Mark Hudson, who Ringo challenges and bests in the biggest(er) nose competition, on the album’s C.D./DVD documentary. If my facts serve me correctly, I believe that this is the same Hudson who has been an ex-collaborator of musicians Aerosmith and actress Goldie Hawn, in varying capacities, besides his earlier musical career with siblings and as producer.

A couple of years ago, was aired for awhile on television, an investment company, promotion commercial, featuring Ringo and co-musicians. A further nuance and re-forming of Ringo’s image developed, while he discoursed and emerged from it as a stock market savant and sage! At the end of his new album’s documentary he proffers his hat for donations. These all are aspects of the multi-faceted Ringo, a consummate entertainer. And, as he so rightly declares in another moment, you can leave the house, you can leave money, but the most important and enduring entity that you can leave, is love. This had always been a talisman with the Beatles, too. This is what Ringo imparted, in abundance, on Friday. A splendid time was, guaranteed for, and, received by all.

Ottawa Beatles Site footnote: The PBS telecast of this Ringo Starr concert shall be at 9:00 p.m. (CST Chicago), Thurs., August 25, 2005.

Mark Drobnick has been a Beatle fan since the mid-1960's and is accomplished at applied piano and guitar. He is a graduate of Carthage College and University of Illinois and is licensed as teacher, real estate broker, and analytical chemist. He currently resides in Waukegan with his wife and three children.