Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 1, 2009)
One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more improbable rock star than Ringo Starr. While one of the greatest drummers the genre has ever known, he possesses a homely voice and looks that don’t scream “teen idol”. Yet he became a fan fave even among the teenybopper set, and nearly 40 years after the Beatles’ demise, he remains a reasonable draw as a solo act. No, he doesn’t fill stadiums ala Paul McCartney, but Ringo still brings in a crowd.
Recorded in 2005, an episode from the Soundstage features a performance by Ringo and his band the Roundheads. The DVD boasts 14 tunes, six of which come from his Beatles days: “Octopus’s Garden”, “I Wanna Be Your Man”, “Don’t Pass Me By”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Act Naturally” and “With a Little Help From My Friends”.
With 1970’s “It Don’t Come Easy”, we get Ringo’s first – and best – hit, while 1973’s Ringo - Starr’s finest solo album – gives us “I’m the Greatest” and “Photograph”. Another vintage solo track shows up via 1974’s “Back Off Boogaloo”, and 2003’s Ringorama contributes “Memphis In Your Mind”. The then-current Choose Love provides the title song and “Give Me Back the Beat”. Finally, we find a version of Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” from that band’s Colin Hay, an occasional member of Ringo’s All-Starr Band. (It’s not clear why Hay was at the Soundstage show.)
Ringo launched his first-ever solo tour in 1989, and that remains the only time I ever saw him on stage. 20 years later, I remain open to taking in another concert, though he appears to boycott the DC area; whenever he announces another tour, we’re never on the itinerary.
Maybe I’ll eventually see Ringo again, but I must admit that if this never happens, I’m okay with that. I’ve seen McCartney 23 times over the last two decades, and the idea of never attending another Macca show would make me sad. Ringo? Meh. I respect and love what he did with the Fabs, and I enjoy some of his solo stuff, but face it: he’s just not on the same level as his former bandmates.
Does that make Soundstage a waste of time? Of course not, and it actually provides a pretty good little set. Granted, you won’t encounter many surprises here, as the tracklist mostly stays with the tried and true. I can’t criticize Ringo for that, as McCartney doesn’t make many adventurous choices despite a much bigger catalog of potential crowd-pleasers. Ringo only sang lead on 10 Beatles tunes, and after 1974, his solo career totally stalled, so there’s only so much he can play and still entertain a general audience.
I appreciate Ringo’s willingness to do new material, though. “Give Me Back the Beat” provides a pretty forgettable tune, but I kind of like “Choose Love”. Though it’s a derivative attempt to conjure up memories of Ringo’s golden years – and one without the more barbed cleverness of Harrison’s “When We Was Fab” – it’s a catchy little sucker.
Outside of the handful of modern tracks, Soundstage exists mostly to offer a walk down memory lane, and in that regard, it proves reasonably successful. The band may be a little too respectful of the Beatles tunes, though, as it’d be nice to hear them depart more from the recorded versions; at times the Roundheads feel more like a tribute band, and the fact the bass player totes a Hofner makes me groan.
Nonetheless, the band works pretty well, and they pick up some steam at times. They’re more willing to open up Ringo’s solo hits; in particular, “Back Off Boogaloo” catches fire with some great guitar work. Ringo himself only occasionally plays an instrument. He opens “Don’t Pass Me By” on piano, and he adds a little percussion for “Give Me Back the Beat”. As for his main instrument, Ringo plops behind the drum kit for part or all of “Choose Love”, “I Wanna Be Your Man”, “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Back Off Boogaloo”.
For better or for worse, Ringo avoids the drums most of the time and concentrates on being the front man. On the positive side, Ringo seems loose and cheerful. He can be a prickly personality behind the scenes, but he appears to stay happy in front of a crowd, and he comes across as warm and likable during this show.
However, that doesn’t make Ringo a great – or even good – front man. Though it’s been 20 years, I well remember how awkward Ringo looked in front of a concert audience back in 1989, and that doesn’t seem to have changed much. Actually, I suppose he seems more comfortable, but he has little stage charisma and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. Ringo dances in a goofy way that just makes him look like a doofus. He ought to strap on a guitar and strum some simple chords; he’d look less ridiculous, and it’d give him an excuse to stop dancing.
Director Joe Thomas reinvents no wheels in this steady and effective visual presentation. Technical gimmickry is nowhere to be found, as we see the show in a concise manner. You’ll find no irritating quick cuts or other idiotic choices that do little more than make a concert tough to watch. This isn’t an inspired visual presentation, but it proves more than satisfying.
The same applies to Soundstage as a whole. There’s nothing particularly dynamic or scintillating on display, but it offers an enjoyable concert from an unlikely rock legend. While I doubt it’ll win over any new fans, established Beatlemaniacs should enjoy it.