Ringo Starr couldn’t have looked more cool, calm or collected. Two hours before he stepped in front of more than 6,000 fans at the Greek Theatre, the ex-Beatle, less than a week shy of his 76th birthday, welcomed a visitor into his dressing room as he relaxed in a chair, dressed monochromatically in a sleek black jacket, slim black jeans, matching T-shirt and tennis shoes.
“The tour is great,” he said of his latest All-Starr Band, which wrapped a 21-show 2016 U.S. tour concert with the sold-out homecoming show at the Greek.
The lineup features guitarist-singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren, Toto guitarist-singer Steve Lukather, Santana keyboardist-singer Gregg Rolie, bassist Richard Page, saxophonist-percussionist Warren Ham and drummer Gregg Bissonette.
“You and I and a lot of people know this band — we’ve been together now for four years,” Starr said. “We get on well, the songs are still good, we enjoy playing and people are still coming out. We’re supportive of each other — that’s what it’s all about — and when we’re not working we can still hang out. It’s great.”
Onstage later, Lukather quipped, “We’re going to outlast the Beatles,” drawing a smile from the band leader.
Because it was the last stop on the tour, there was no shortage of expressions of mutual admiration among the band members, a virtual love fest from and surrounding the man who has made his own mantra of the phrase “Peace and love.”
He noted backstage that come Thursday he will once again use his birthday to promote that message in an annual ritual that’s become more expansive with each succeeding year.
Starr will hold court outside the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood. “Other musicians will play songs of mine,” he said, “and we’ll be trying to encourage everyone, wherever they are at noon [Thursday], to say ‘Peace and love.’”
After the celebrity auction he and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, conducted last winter with hundreds of items they culled from their personal and professional lives, Starr said they’ve downsized considerably, sold the home they owned in Monte Carlo and now live primarily in Los Angeles.
That made Saturday’s two-hour performance essentially a homecoming show, during which he sang lead on a dozen numbers including his signature Beatles hits “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Boys,” “Don’t Pass Me By” and “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
His reading of “Act Naturally” brought the song full circle, given that it was originally a hit for Bakersfield country star Buck Owens, who recorded it at Capitol in Hollywood, catching the ear of a certain country-music-loving Liverpudlian some 5,000 miles away.
As usual, the All-Starr Band concept turns over generous spotlight time to Starr’s collaborators.
That allows Lukather to resurrect Toto hits “Rosanna,” “Africa” and “Hold the Line.” Rundgren, meanwhile, let loose on his Beatles-esque “I Saw the Light” as well as the rhythmically insistent “Bang on the Drum All Day.” Page stepped forward on “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie,” and Rolie unleashed the Latin rhythms of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways” and “Oye Como Va.”
The group delivers a high familiarity quotient, but didn’t always take full advantage of the skills of rock’s most celebrated drummer. It would be illuminating, for instance, to hear what Starr would bring to his band mates’ hits with his distinctively unfussy, rock solid rhythmic accompaniment, rather than meticulously recreating all the original drum parts by having fellow drummer Bissonette add so many complex flourishes and fills.
Starr’s characteristic energetic spark, and certainly his wit, showed no signs of diminishing through the years. He spryly bounded on and off stage, and near the end of the show engaged in a flight of jumping jacks near the conclusions of “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
The one overt acknowledgement of the passage of time came with a quick lyric change in his performance of “I’m the Greatest,” which, he told the crowd, “was written for me... long ago, by John Lennon.”
Where Lennon originally wrote “Now I’m only 32, and all I want to do, is boogaloo,” a statement that was true for both ex-Beatles when it was written in 1972, Starr wryly sang “Now I’m way past 32....”
Although Saturday’s performance brought his latest concert run to an end, Starr said backstage, “I’m more than halfway through a new album,” with the same process he’s employed for his recordings in recent years, using a studio at his L.A. home and tapping musician pals whenever they drop by to visit. So far, his songwriting partners include Lukather, songwriter-producer Glen Ballard, Dave Stewart and Van Dyke Parks.
A few days after Saturday’s birthday event in Hollywood, Starr will head to Las Vegas for a 10th anniversary celebration of the Cirque du Soleil show “Love,” which has been outfitted with new technological elements and some revamped numbers now that it is entering its second decade.
The retooled version has been running since February, but Starr said he will see it for the first time on July 14, when he’s slated to be in the audience alongside Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.
“I want to be surprised, too,” he said. “They do a great job.”
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