‘ACT NATURALLY’: RINGO STARR AND HIS ALL-STARR BAND – live in Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg), 4 July 2018

I had never thought that in my lifetime on this planet I would be able to see, and sing along with, a Beatle live on stage! However, destiny willed that the Rockhal venue in Esch-sur-Alzette, where I live, would be visited, in the year 2018 on the 4th of July, by one of the two surviving members of the Fab Four – by Ringo Starr, now aged 77 (and soon to turn 78). Half a century on, the magic is still there!

Ringo was accompanied by his All Starr Band (forgive the pun), a formation which turned out be a supergroup and, more than that, a conspectus of Anglophone 70s and 80s rock, including former members of British band 10 cc (indeed that group’s frontman, Graeme Gouldman), American group Toto and Australian outfit Men at Work, and Gregg Rolie, onetime member of the classic Latin-rock act Santana.

The atmosphere was vibrant and happy throughout. Ringo’s drumming is not in the forefront these days, but he jumps and dances joyfully on stage and good-naturedly interrogates the audience. His voice comes across as remarkably well preserved: indeed if anything it sounds stronger than in his Beatles days. The musicians, despite their various provenances, gel perfectly and shine both as individual virtuosos and as a team.

The 20 songs of the setlist stretch from the 50s to the 80s. The opening number, Carl Perkins’ ‘Matchbox’, places the show under the sign of rock’n’roll. The various All Starrs take the lead on their onetime groups’ greatest hits. I cannot claim to specially care for Toto’s pomp-rock (‘Rosanna’ and ‘Hold the Line’) or the Men at Work chestnuts ‘Down Under’ and ‘Who Can It Be Now?’, but the 10 cc numbers (the group was huge in the UK in its day), ably recreated with Graeme Gouldman at the helm, are another matter, with ‘I’m Not in Love’, ‘The Things We Do For Love’ and the reggae pastiche ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ coming across as fresh as if they had been created yesterday. The most welcome surprise, at least for me, is served up by the three numbers made famous by Santana, ‘Evil Ways’, ‘Black Magic Woman’ and Tito Puente’s ‘Oye Como Va’, all superbly interpreted with santanista Gregg Rolie on lead guitar. I would never have expected to hear this Latino material at an ex-Beatle concert!

 

Ringo represents his post-Beatles solo hits with three numbers, ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, ‘Photograph’ and ‘You’re Sixteen’, Johnny Burnette’s rock’n’roll standard with which the ex-Beatle hit number one in the US chart in 1974. And then of course, there are … the Beatles songs, without which no Ringo Starr concert would make sense.

Out of 20 songs, Ringo includes six Beatles numbers, which seems about right. Also, most featured him on vocal on the original releases – relevance therefore cannot be disputed. Ringo intelligently divides the Beatles material between the lesser-known and the hyperfamous, thus avoiding turning himself into a greatest hits machine. Modesty rules with the numbers from the Beatles catalogue including two cover versions: the Shirelles’ ‘Boys’ from ‘Please Please Me’ and Buck Owens’ ‘Act Naturally’ (from ‘Help!’), and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, a Beatles original but one of the more obscure tracks from the White Album. Better-known is the 1963 single and track from ‘With the Beatles’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’.

At number 9 on the setlist comes a song of which Ringo declares to the audience, ‘If you don’t know this song, you’ve come to the wrong concert!’, and indeed, yes, it’s ‘Yellow Submarine!’ The public goes wild and everyone, myself included, sings along with the celebrated refrain: ‘We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine’, with its perennial childlike innocence.

The very last number generates similar emotions: Ringo plays tribute to ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, the Beatles’ canonical masterpiece on which he contributed lead vocal to the song he now performs (and which the late Joe Cocker in his day turned into a UK number one), ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. Again the audience sings along ecstatically.

This has been a remarkable concert. It will surely stand as one of the best historic memories of many in the audience. Ringo and his musicians have given their all, and we can safely conclude that the ex-Beatle has superbly followed the advice of one of the songs he sang today: for the challenge he has risen to, and to everyone’s gratification, has been to … Act Naturally!

Note: Ringo Starr turned 78 on 7 July 2018, three days after the concert.

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