Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band brought peace and love to New York City—with a little help from his friend Phil Selway of Radiohead

By Jordan Runtagh
November 16, 2017 08:15 PM
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The holiday season is nearly upon us, and anyone with a yen to perform should seriously consider asking Santa for a fraction of Ringo Starr‘s musicianship, stamina and stage presence. The 77-year-old rock icon commanded the stage at Manhattan’s opulent Beacon Theater Wednesday night, spoiling a sold-out crowd of New Yorkers with over two hours of peace, love and music.

He was flanked by the longest incarnation of his ever-evolving All-Starr Band, featuring luminaries like power-pop wizard Todd Rundgren, Toto guitar great Steve Lukather, Richard Page of Mr. Mister, and Gregg Rolie, who recently reunited with his former colleagues in Santana. They also got a little help from their friend Phil Selway of Radiohead, who assumed drum duties for—appropriately enough—the “With a Little Help from My Friends” finale.

The penultimate show on a month-long trek to support his recent album Give More Love, Starr showed no signs of road-wear as he sprinted headlong onto the stage to the rockabilly roll of “Matchbox”—the Carl Perkins chestnut he made his own with the Beatles in 1964. While he’s claimed that the rapid entrance is to ward off stage-fright (“I always wish I could have this cool Frank Sinatra attitude and stroll on,” he admitted in 2016. “But I haven’t been able to achieve it yet!”) Starr instantly owns the room with the gravitas, humor, and ease of a seasoned and extremely beloved late night host.

Make that an extremely beloved late night host who also happened to be a member of the greatest band in history. An appearance by Starr—or his Beatle brother Paul McCartney—in any capacity has a supernatural effect on nearly all present. Regardless of age, gender, race, and practically anything else that may divide us, to see one of the Fabs perform their musical magic ranks up there with sunny summer days, newborn kittens, and carb consumption as one of the life’s unimpeachably Great Things.

He follows “Matchbox” with his signature hit, “It Don’t Come Easy,” a track that out-sold contemporary singles from his newly ex-bandmates after hitting the charts in 1971. When the Beatles dissolved the previous year, many wondered how the genial stickman would fare without the compositional help of McCartney and John Lennon. But he succeeded due to the same warmth and charm that transformed the 11 songs he sang for the group into some of the most well-loved in the Beatles’ canon. Nearly all of them—including the whimsical psychedelic sea shanty “Yellow Submarine,” the rollicking “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and the self-deprecating down-at-the-heels country tune “Act Naturally”—get an airing at the Beacon.

For those fearing that the show would coast on Starr’s bountiful charisma and storied past, the incendiary Latin funk of “Oye Como Ya” allayed any anxieties by showcasing the band’s virtuosity. Lukather did justice to Santana (no easy feat) and keyboard supremo Rolie recreated his fierce part heard on the original recording. Each All-Starr got their moment to shine. Lukather went on to lead the group through a trio of Toto hits—”Africa,” “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line”—while bassist Richard Page of Mr. Mister took the limelight for “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie.” Rundgren offered perhaps the most surreal moment of the night: the chance to watch Starr gleefully singing along to “Bang the Drum All Day.”

For this writer, the emotional centerpiece occurred midway through the show. “I’d like to do a number from that other band I used to be in!” he teases the crowd, breathless in anticipation of the next Fab classic. It’s his favorite fake-out as he launches into the Shirelles’ 1961 bop-shoo-wop B-side, “Boys,”—a song he did not only with the Beatles, but also his first semi-pro group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

As he gleefully shouts behind his pearly Ludwig kit, you can almost feel time flowing backwards—before he was an elder statesman of rock, before he was a millionaire celebrity, before he was a mop top, before he was Ringo, even. Back to when he was just Richie Starkey, a kid who loved to bash a drum for all it was worth. “The playing is what it’s all about. That’s why I’m touring, that’s why I make records. I just love to play,” he recently told PEOPLE. “I’m in a profession and a position where I can just play for as long as I can. As long as I can hold the sticks!”

While almost none of the songs are less than 30 years old, it should be noted (underlined, with asterisks) that Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band is not a nostalgia act. “Nostalgia” implies something static, irrelevant, and vaguely frivolous. No, Starr and his merry band are much too vibrant for that, and the message of peace and love that they sing is just as relevant today. Besides, legends never go out of style.