The often-overused term living legend is bantered about in the entertainment industry, but if anyone in the pop music world deserves the moniker, it would be Ringo Starr. The former Beatle brought the latest incarnation of his all-starr band to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for the final date of his 2019 tour, September 1. Fans lined up early for the sold-out show, some with their young children in tow. The historic venue was the brainchild of landowner Griffith J. Griffith, who donated 3,000 acres of land to the city of Los Angeles in 1896 to create Griffith Park. He envisioned the performing arts venue before his death and left money for its construction in his will.
Architects chose a canyon because of its excellent acoustics. The building was officially dedicated on September 25, 1930. The first performance took place on June 26, 1931, attended by a capacity crowd of 4,000. Since then the capacity has expanded to 5,870 with the addition of side risers. Once inside, it is hard for concert-goers to imagine that they are in the heart of Los Angeles. The hot summer sun painted the mountainsides surrounding the Amphitheater in glowing colors. The restaurants and snack bars were especially busy as the early bird crowd settled into the Amphitheater. The show was a relatively late one with no opening act. The concert began just after 8 PM, just as the first stars started to appear in the glowing evening sky. By the time the band started to saunter onto the stage nearly everyone had found their seats, unusual for a Los Angeles concert. The six-piece group began to play, and the crowd instantly knew they were in for an exceptional evening of music. The sound was perfectly balanced. Giant video screens flashed a multi-camera montage of the veteran musicians. Then screams erupted amidst a star-studded crowd as Ringo strutted to the stage looking a bit like a peace and love muppet flashing peace signs at everyone and beaming like a schoolboy. There he stood the drummer of the Beatles looking happy, healthy and spry as he pranced around the stage. It is hard to believe that the beloved musician is 79 years old, the same Richard Starke who nearly didn’t survive a sickly childhood growing up in Liverpool. Ringo instantly endeared himself to the crowd, “I love the Greek” he quipped and would repeat over and over throughout the show. An animated Ringo reminded the crowd that it was the 30th anniversary of his ever-evolving all-star band and that they had played a triumphant concert at the Greek nearly 30 years earlier.
The hometown hero who lives almost within walking distance of the Amphitheater, bantered with the crowd throughout the evening telling numerous jokes with the sarcasm of British humor. Occasionally he would call out friends he recognized in the audience. Frequently he would make appeals for more peace and love in the world, which would sound disingenuous coming from most pop stars. But not from a former Beatle, whose decade long career was built on the simple premise. The show like most on the tour featured a 25 song setlist of pop history. The band opened with an early Beatles cover of the Carl Perkins song “Matchbox.” It was one of the first recordings that Ringo took the lead on in the Beatles. Next Ringo tackled one of his biggest solo hits “It Don’t Come Easy.” That was followed by a Beatles classic, “What Goes On,” a deep cut from the Rubber Soul album which featured Ringo on lead vocals.
Then Ringo took a literal back seat and joined veteran rock drummer Greg Bissonette to play double drums. At that point, the concert turned towards highlighting the immense musical talents of the current all-star band. The latest iteration of the band includes Toto’s Steve Lukather, Men at Work’s Colin Hay, Santana and Journey’s Gregg Rolie, Warren Ham, Gregg Bissonette and Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band. As the night wore on the band displayed impeccable chemistry, meshing tightly especially during prolonged jam sessions. Greg Rolle was the first of the backing band members to take the lead. The master keyboardist and eloquent singer was responsible for much of the success of both early Santana and Journey albums. Rolle took the lead on the first of three Santana hits including, “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman,” and “Oye Como Va.” A particularly intense jam on “Black Magic Woman” saw Lukather channel, Carlos Santana, perfectly. In a certain way, the tunes sounded fresher than the originals with the band creating their own unique jam take on nearly every song.
Luthaker took over the lead next with an exquisite interpretation of “Rosana,” and later two other Toto hits, “Africa” and “Hold The Line.” The guitar wizard offered up powerful lead vocals as well. Next, it was Stuarts turn to take the lead offering up lead vocals on the Average White Bands hit “Pick Up The Pieces,” and later “Cut The Cake” and “Work to Do.” His songs showcased his funky bass lines and the group’s everyman Warren Ham as well. The versatile Ham, not as famous publicly as his bandmates has been utilized by an armada of pop music legends who recognized his talents. He was even the lead vocalist in an early 70’s version of the Texas rock band Bloodrock. During the show at the Greek, he jazzed up the mix with wailing Saxophone skills and backing percussion. His percussion skills were showcased when the band jammed “Oye Como Va.” He even played a mean flute on the Colin Hay tune “Down Under” from Men at Work. Hay also took the lead on two other Men at Work hits, “Overkill” and “Down Under.”
That left Ringo to take the lead on an additional ten songs that spanned his career with the Beatles as well as his work as a solo artist. His signature Beatles tune Yellow Submarine had parents hoisting their young children in the air. “Boys” and “Your Sixteen” had women of all ages twisting in the aisles.
The two hour and fifteen-minute show ended with a sing-along of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” That well-played anthem can be seen as another disingenuous moment at times for those co-opting it for various purposes. But the audience at the Greek did not doubt the genuine sentiment of the song at the closing show as a troupe of former all-star band members assembled onstage to join the band. Among the veteran rockers who joined the sing-along were, Joe Walsh, Wally Palmar of The Romantics, Edgar Winter, Richard Page of Mr. Mister, Eric Carmen of The Raspberries, drumming legend Jim Keltner and Nils Lofgren. The group broke into a rendition of “Give Peace a Chance” before taking their final bows in front of a standing ovation that lasts more than 10 minutes after the final note was played. Well done for a lad from Liverpool and his mates.