This concert is too damn short! Sure, it’s a SoundStage performance shot in pristine high-definition with Dolby Digital Surround for the purpose of airing on PBS stations. Sure, it is Ringo Starr, and he’s been doing this sort of thing long enough that everything onstage runs like clockwork. But that doesn’t mean I want this DVD to clock in under an hour. Precision is great, but this is supposed to be rock and roll!
Okay, so Ringo Starr and the Roundheads: Live is a mere 56-minutes of musical footage. There’s a song list, but there are no extras, no outtakes, and no interviews. I expected more. I’ll get over it. After all, it’s Ringo. Everybody loves Ringo. That much is obvious from the first shots of the audience for this one-night-only event at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois in 2005. Everyone is so excited. They all look so happy to be there, and none more so than the man himself.
Looking fit, and rather dashing, in jeans and a sparkly black jacket, Ringo is in his element from the moment he steps out. All smiles, peace signs and good-natured—if predictable—banter (“You’re the best audience we’ve had tonight!”). The predictability from Ringo is all right. It’s expected, it’s comforting. But the predictable nature of the other elements here is a bit frustrating.
Personally, I don’t know who any members of the backing band, The Roundheads, are. They aren’t formally introduced (though occasionally a name is called in later songs before a solo, but it’s still not clear who is who), which is fine because we’re here for Ringo Starr. However, when the cameras are spotlighting various players, maybe they should focus on, oh I don’t know… what they are playing? Actually this gets mostly sorted out after the opening songs, “It Don’t Come Easy,” and “Octopus’s Garden”, but it’s a noticeable distraction from Ringo. As are the sweeping shots across the candy-colored stage at odd intervals and the seemingly random and certainly ill-timed pull backs to the back of the theatre, but I’ll stop picking on the technical issues now. Because it’s the music everybody came for.
Ringo Starr knows how to give his audience what they want, even when he’s not giving them everything. You might not notice upon first glance, but several of his solo staples from live performances in previous years aren’t present. He leaves out hits like “Oh My My”, “You’re Sixteen” and “The No-No Song” (the one I’ve always expected to hear every time I’ve seen him because of the crowd sing-along potential). The fact that I didn’t miss any of these is a testament to the man’s sense of showmanship. He will give you what you want, yes, but he is also going to dictate what that may be. Surprisingly, or perhaps not when you consider this was to be televised, the setlist includes new songs. “Give Me Back the Beat” is well-received but not very memorable, “Choose Love”, however, is a wonderfully catchy song, despite—or because of—the many call-back references to Ringo’s past.
Along with the presentation of new material, it was surprising to me that Ringo barely touches a drumkit through the entire set. He plays a bit during “Choose Love” and brings a drum to center stage to hit with one hand on “Give Me Back the Beat”, but he’s only really behind the kit for “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Back Off Boogaloo”. Oh, and “Who Can It Be Now?” And there’s another surprise for you. Colin Hay of Men at Work is brought out to sing his hit. I like that song, and the performance is not bad… it’s nice. It’s also incongruous, unexplained and apropos of nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I like Colin Hay, but what the hell is he doing there?
Hay leaves the stage just as he came, with Ringo simply announcing his name, and then it’s on with the show. One of the best moments occurs when Ringo sweetly plays the opening of “Don’t Pass Me By” on a brightly painted piano, before bounding back to the stage’s edge to bask in the audience’s warmth as the sing along to an old favorite. Also an obvious favorite is “I’m The Greatest”, which Ringo introduces by relating the story of how John Lennon wrote it for him.
“Memphis in Your Mind” breaks the mood for a minute, not because it’s a bad song, but because this is the one where The Roundheads take turns overplaying and mugging for the cameras. Thankfully, it’s followed by “Photograph”, “Yellow Submarine” and “Act Naturally”, which, naturally, gear the crowd up for the big finale. As I said, Ringo Starr is all about showmanship, and he gives the audience what they want. “With a Little Help from my Friends” ends things on the high note everyone was hoping for when they stepped into the historic Genesee, and one imagines that as they drove home, no one had any regrets about that night. Except, maybe, that it was too short.