Don’t let the goofball demeanor fool you: Ringo Starr is the model of consistency these days, as solid and professional a frontman as there is — and maestro of one of the last decades’ most reliably entertaining guest-packed tours.
So the question for any All-Starr concert comes down to the chemistry among the patch-work amalgam of musicians he assembles on stage — and the 2012 edition might just be the best (or at least the most reliably cohesive and entertaining) since Ringo’s very first lineup, back in 1989.
For proof, look no further than this new DVD chronicling their most recent American tour, Ringo at the Ryman (Universal), a signature night when Starr turned 72 that features Todd Rundgren, Toto’s Steve Lukather, Gregg Rolie of Santana and Journey fame and Mr. Mister’s Richard Page, along with Mark Rivera (Billy Joel) and Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth).
“I can personally attest,” Rundgren says at once point, “that this is the lovey-dovey-est band that Ringo has ever put together.”
And it shows.
The sense of community, of unadulterated fun is simply contagious — whether it’s Bissonette and Rundgren making exaggerated “oh” faces at one another during renditions of Starr’s “Wings” and Rolie’s “Evil Ways,” or Lukather bowing down to the former Beatles drummer before Page launches into “Kyrie.” Then there’s Page, with his shoes kicked off, completely grooving on Ringo’s always-fun rendition of “I’m the Greatest.” And the way they ham it up on “Yellow Submarine” has to be seen to be believed.
At the same time, it’s not all silly asides. There is a fizzy sense of discovery in hearing Rolie and Page taking over the backing vocals on Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light,” while Starr adds his signature tumbling fills. Surprise guest (and, by the way, Starr’s brother-in-law) Joe Walsh arrives, not long after the Ryman crowd sings happy birthday, to offer a squalling version of “Rocky Mountain Way” — complete with a throwback talk box. Page debuts a touching new song, called “You Are Mine.”
Sure, there are nits to pick. Lukather wasn’t the primary vocalist on tracks like “Rosanna” and “Africa,” so David Paich and Bobby Kimball are missed — though Page hits the notes with admirable aplomb. It would have been a treat to hear Rolie dip into a song like “Just the Same Way” from his tenure as a co-founder in Journey, too.
But deeper bonds were clearly forged. Rolie, who introduces Lukather as “my partner in crime,” is working on a new solo project that will include the guitarist. They perform “Black Magic Woman” with an emotional connection that is palpable, then goof around on the opening of “Everybody’s Everything” like high school chums. Rundgren appears throughout in a Ringo shirt. Meanwhile, Lukather clearly couldn’t be more thrilled to be playing George Harrison’s parts on “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Boys,” (the all-too-appropriate old Buck Owens favorite) “Act Naturally” and “Photograph.”
You get the feeling that when the concert ended, they left together, as friends.