REVIEW: Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band at the BMO Harris Pavilion

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Photo by Daniel Ojeda

When it was first announced in March that Ringo Starr would be playing the BMO Harris Pavilion at the Summerfest grounds, it was immediately earmarked by many as a highlight of an already busy 2018 full of great local concerts. That’s admittedly a bit of heavy pressure to put on the 78-year old Beatles drummer, as well as his All Starr Band consisting of Colin Hay from Men At Work, Steve Lukather of Toto, Gregg Rolie of Santana and Journey,  Graham Gouldman of 10cc, Warren Ham, and Gregg Bisonette. However, Starr and his band exceeded expectations on Saturday night with a prompt two-hour set that played like a catalog of greatest hits on shuffle.

The reality of this show is that if you were expecting a full night of Beatles tunes, you might be disappointed, but if you were a fan of the decades of classic rock that were in many ways a byproduct of The Beatles, you were in for a treat. Seeing the band member’s names on paper might make you wince a little as well; drummer Bisonette is the youngest member of the band at 59 years old. However, seeing the band live, everyone truly was a star(r), technically proficient as ever. Starr brings over a half a century of being a rock star, and the rest of the band have several decades of being on top of their game as well. When it meshes together, as it did on Saturday night, crowds like the jam-packed Pavilion audience eat up song after song. No solo was left untouched, and no part was altered for age. It was like watching a surreal jam session for two hours without a lull.

The set list bounced around in terms of showcasing the bands associated with each member, Starr included. In fact, Ringo seemed to know what he did best for many years with the Beatles; play the background. While we did get a fair amount of Ringo Starr solo material, and Beatles cuts “Boys”, “Don’t Pass Me By”, “Yellow Submarine” and “I Wanna Be Your Man”, much of the night was spent with tracks from Toto, Santana, Men At Work, and 10cc with varied vocalists. In many ways that worked to the show’s advantage, creating a comprehensive set with no real filler. It was, however, a little awkward to hear the band play Johnny Burnette’s “You’re Sixteen”. That could’ve maybe been cut from a set of many sexa- and septuagenarians.

Starr’s solo songs, “Photograph”, “Anthem” and “It Don’t Come Easy” made it to the set, but Ringo himself was the one to poke fun at his work. “Before joining The Beatles, I had written many songs” he quipped at one point, to follow with “most of them weren’t recorded”. This was also a great time to remind you that Toto and Men At Work had some bangers in their catalog (1. yes, I said it. And 2. Toto still does – they played the same BMO Harris Pavilion at Summerfest 2017). The band also played “Africa” and “Rosanna” of recent Weezer lore, but only referring to them as “a certain alternative band”, which leads one to believe perhaps Lukather isn’t too thrilled about their ironically hip covers.

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Photo by Daniel Ojeda

Nevertheless, Lukather, Hay, Bisonette, and Warren Ham were the real standouts of the band, providing a shot in the arm whenever a boost of energy was needed. For 78 years old, though, Ringo was quite spry as well; dancing, swaying, jumping, and even running within the course of the set, in the middle of many, many peace signs to the crowd (naturally). There was only a pair of back-to-back songs – 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” and Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”, that Starr was not on stage, playfully mentioning the songs were “Magical musical moments” to the crowd while he was away. There’s no shame in needing a breather at nearly 80, but it wasn’t as if the band was dead in the water without their main member.

No matter how long of a review that could be written about Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band on Saturday night, special moments would be almost assuredly be left out. There were enough winks and nods to all of the bands involved that made for an overload of nostalgia. The night closed on the all-too fitting “With A Little Help From My Friends”, and a touch of “Give Peace A Chance” which became an enthusiastic crowd singalong. Ringo Starr brought plenty of peace and love to the BMO Harris Pavilion, but he also delivered a night full of memorable moments, as well.

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