A couple of weeks ago, I was driving home from a restaurant with my wife and two sons. My older son, who is 8 years old, brought up the Beatles in conversation. My wife and I are avid fans of the Fab Four, and as a result, our kids absorb what is probably a larger-than-normal amount of the Liverpool sounds of the '60s. It was the same way for me growing up. My parents were both Beatles fans, having grown up during Beatlemania. Some of my earliest musical memories are hearing songs like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life.”
So anyway, my eldest son brought up the Beatles, and being the inquisitive third grader he is, he asked if we would ever get to see the band play. My wife and I looked at each other, unsure of how to explain the painful truth. I decided to just level with the kid. We’d already had the inevitable talk about death and why it happens, and so I told him that both George Harrison and John Lennon had passed. Now anyone who knows my son knows that he never stops with one question. “How did they die?” he asked. “Well, George got sick with a disease that some people get, and he died. John was coming home with his wife one night, and a crazy man shot him, and he died.” I was preparing to follow up with some heartening words about how even though they weren’t with us anymore, we still had all of their beautiful music, but before I could, I heard the soft sound of weeping from the backseat. “That’s a really sad story,” said my son. He’s a pretty sensitive kid, and I love him for that, but I felt awful for dashing his dreams of getting to see the Beatles play live. I actually felt the same way he did. I too was born too late to get to see them perform. As a matter of fact, the breakup of the Beatles became official the week I was born in April 1970, so while technically I was alive while the Beatles were still together, it was for just a few days.
When we got home, I pulled out some books I have about the band and showed my son what a natural clown Lennon was and how George, the “Quiet Beatle,” truly embraced the Indian culture and mysticism. This led to pulling up some videos on the web showing the Fab Four in their heyday, and before long, my son was laughing and singing along. He learned the song “Yellow Submarine” that night, which is probably the most kid-friendly Beatles tune out there.
Back in 2002, my wife and I got to see Paul McCartney perform in Atlanta. For a couple of Beatles fans born too late to actually see the Beatles, that show was an amazing experience, and I doubt anything will ever top it for me. After seeing how hurt my son was that he was never going to get to see the Beatles live, I decided I was going to give him the closest thing possible. That’s how my son and I ended up at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night to see Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band. Coincidentally, McCartney was again playing the same night in Atlanta, but seeing as it was a school night, it was going to be a Ringo kind of night. For Nigel, the evening hinged on one thing: getting to hear his favorite Beatle (our dog’s name is Ringo) sing his favorite Beatles song. I was excited about getting to finally see the other living Beatle perform, as well as to see what musicians Starr had brought along to make up the rotating lineup up his All Starr Band. This time out, the members included guitarists Steve Lukather (Toto) and Todd Rundgren (Utopia), keyboardist Gregg Rolie (Santana and Journey), bassist Richard Page (Mr. Mister), saxophonist and percussionist Warren Ham (Bloodrock), and drummer Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth). Sure, not quite the same as in previous years, when the All Starr Band featured folks like Joe Walsh and Dr. John, but an impressive lineup all the same.
The band wasted no time in getting the PAC crowd on its feet, opening with a cover of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox.” At 74 years of age, Starr seemed remarkably energetic. He paced the stage, singing and flashing his trademark two-finger peace sign. As his band played behind him, Starr performed a couple of his solo hits, “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Wings.” Starr then took a seat behind his drum kit, and this is where the genius behind bringing a bevy of well-known musicians on the road with him started paying off. Rundgren, resplendent in a turquoise outfit with a matching guitar, sang one of his biggest hits, “I Saw the Light.” He returned later to perform “Bang the Drum All Day” and Utopia’s “Love Is the Answer.” Rolie was up next, leading the band in a smoking version of Santana’s “Evil Ways.” The crowd really seemed to react well to that tune, as well as subsequent Santana hits “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” later in the show. Steve Lukather demonstrated why his band Toto was a hit machine in the '80s with performances of “Rosanna,” “Africa,” and “Hold the Line” at various points during the show. Page performed the Mr. Mister '80s hits “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings,” as well as a new song written by Page, “You Are Mine.” In between all of this, Starr dropped a Shirelles cover here (“Boys”), another Perkins cover there (“Honey Don’t”), and a few Beatles tunes. After joking that Robert Plant was in the audience, Starr asked Lukather to play a chord on his guitar, then kicked into “Yellow "Submarine.” The look of realization on my son’s face was priceless. As the entire audience at the PAC sang along with the chorus of “We all live in a yellow submarine/Yellow submarine/Yellow submarine,” I could hear my son’s voice over them all. It may have been only a quarter of the band whose music has already so enriched his life, but he was clearly loving it.
After a few more tunes (“Photograph” and Buck Owens‘ “Act Naturally”), Starr and his band ended the show with another Ringo staple from the Beatles years, “With a Little Help From My Friends.” This morphed into a brief cover of the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance,” during which Starr flashed one last peace sign and dashed off the stage.
All in all, it was a great show. Aside from taking a breather during one song, Starr was onstage for the whole show, much of it behind his drum kit seeming to have no problem keeping up with the very energetic Bissonette. The musicians in the All Starr Band seemed to work well together, and in fact, all of them are veterans of earlier versions of Starr’s touring. Wednesday night’s show didn’t replace that ridiculously good McCartney show from a dozen years ago, but it was still a great night of music. Most of all, I was delighted to see my son taking it all in at this, his first real concert experience. He’s going to be able to tell his grandchildren that he got to see a Beatle. This makes me happy.