Who Can It Be Now? (Who Do You THINK?...)

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band Live 2003
KOCH Records

Released March 23, 2004
Recorded Live July 2003 at Casino Rama, Canada

March 29th, 2004
Oboy, everyone! It's time for yet another one of those spiffy little souvenir discs the estimable Mr. Starkey invariably issues at the end of yet another one of his Starr-studded traveling rock and roll roadshows ('cept for, of course, after the 2000 conglomeration, the single opportunity I'VE yet had of attending a show...sniff, sob, and et al...).

Yes, our headliner does the "What's my name?" call and response bit ("Ringo!")...

And yup, he performs "It Don't Come Easy" (fifth different official live recording of the drummer's personal anthem), "Yellow Submarine" (fifth time for this one as well), and "With A Little Help From My Friends" (What? Only the fourth time? Hard to believe...)

Actually, our boy takes the mic for fully eight of the sixteen tracks that make up this latest live offering, though common sense tells me it's unlikely that Ringo's crooning makes up exactly half of the 69:25 playing time of this generous disc, as several of his subordinates indulge in rather, um, lengthy performances, at least compared to a succinct number like "Boys"...

Oh, right--"Boys". Continuing with our scoring at home, that little ditty makes its fourth appearance, as does "I Wanna Be Your Man". Last heard performed at "The Concert For George", Carl Perkins delightful "Honey Don't" is given an almost self-parodying read through on it's third stage recording, as opposed to the necessary gravitas hovering over its last previously issued live take.

And while "Don't Pass Me By", Ringo's initial wholly self-penned tune from the legendary White Album, was recorded live accompanied by the Roundheads first for the VH1 Storytellers disc, this second time through marks its debut appearance on an All-Starr Band set list.

As always, a recent recording, unfamiliar to all save the hard-core fans (like you and me) rounds out our Fab front-man's spotlighted contribution, in this instance, the upbeat "Memphis In Your Mind" from last year's "Ringo Rama" studio disc. I couldn't help but chuckle when Ringo remarks to the crowd that the tune was from his latest album, eliciting loud squeals of approval from the audience, prompting him to sarcastically remark, "Oh yeah, like you bought it!" Chart action would argue otherwise, and Richie well knew it. A shame--it was a pretty decent disc.

The only surprise here is that Ringo neglected to include his tribute to his sadly departed bandmate, George Harrison, the warmly melancholic "Never Without You", which he not only performed as a matter of course during this tour, but on several TV programs prior to "Ringo Rama"s release as well. Perhaps he felt that while it may've worked in concert, on disc, it would've somehow derailed the otherwise happily carefree vibes Ringo and his merry band of classic rock hitmeisters work so hard to exude. Personally, I would've liked to have heard "Never Without You" in lieu of perhaps one of the other old tired war-horses our stickman has been known to trot out repeatedly, but hey, at least we got to enjoy "Don't Pass Me By", so I suppose I shouldn't complain overly much...

(...Apropos of nothing, while I don't imagine we'll EVER hear "Good Night" performed in front of an audience, I'm somewhat surprised "Matchbox" has never made the cut, though the one I'm really longing to revisit from the Beatlemania era is the woefully undervalued "What Goes On", the sole composition ever credited to the songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney/Starkey. You think maybe Yoko would mind any if Ringo moved his name to the front of the line on THAT one, hmm?...

)As for this go-round's supporting cast, well, it's your typical mixed bag: Paul Carrack, Colin Hay, John Waite, and the returning Sheila E. Each member gets to have a pair of their most notable numbers taped for all posterity, nestled alongside Ringo's passel of iconic anthems. I found it a bit jarring to find the Starr of the show surrounded not by hit makers who shared the airwaves with Ringo and his mates during their heyday, both as a group and as solo artists, as was the case with earlier assemblages, but by musicians who had some of their greatest successes deep into the eighties. Excuse me, but it just seems odd to have Ringo joined on stage by people who were selling records hand over fist the very same decade their new-found leader couldn't even get his company at the time to RELEASE his LPs!?! And just personally, as the calendar insidiously creeps up ever further on the featured compositions, the nostalgia factor wanes diametrically. Or something...

That said, I particularly enjoyed Paul Carrack--the Man of a Thousand Bands--performing both his first hit with Ace, "How Long", and his considerably later chart-buster recorded while fronting Mike and the Mechanics, "Living Years". They're good songs, and Carrack does a nice job involving the audience during a sing-along chorus on "How Long". He's a tad bit more successful than Sheila E trying the same participation approach during her "Love Bizarre" number, as perhaps the paying customers were as puzzled by her presence with the group as I was. Not only that, but along with "Glamorous Life", this is a repeat performance for each song from Ms. E on these seemingly endless live compilations. Now, I can well imagine how she'd energize a crowd during a concert situation comprised largely of middle-aged men strutting across the stage--with or without their walkers--but as much as I respect her talents and the whole Prince spin-off vibes she exudes, I still think she's an odd fit, musically.

You'd think Colin Hay would be a little out of his element as well, but the former Men At Work frontman contributes a solid "Down Under", as well as an enthusiastically received "Who Can It Be Now" that's clearly the non-Ringo highlight of this tour's set-list. Hay proves to be a canny addition to the proceedings. As for John Waite, easily the least interesting member of this All-Starr Band (in my mind, anyway), his "Missing You" is one of those songs that, once you hear it, its criminally catchy hook stays with you like, forever! Until I plopped this CD into the ol' disc player, I hadn't heard that tune for years and years, but just as soon as the first note was struck, well, it was if it'd never vanished from the car radio's playlist! On the other hand, his other number, "When I See You Smile", is just one of those typically pretty--but basically empty--eighties ballads that sounds sweet while it's playing, but is immediately forgotten the second the polite applause fades. But let's be fair--every one of the past All-Starr Band CDs have had more than their share of duds, and this one's no different--and honestly, no worse--than any of the others.

Mark Rivera once again runs the musical side of things, and does his usual fine job turning a group of disparate strangers into a decent makeshift band. I'd read some criticism of Hay's lead guitar playing, and granted, his solo on "Honey Don't" is rather tepid, but he otherwise acquits himself well enough. Manning the keyboards, Carrack does a fine job, and Sheila E IS a talented percussionist, I'll freely admit that. John Waite? Yeah, okay, whatever. And Ringo? Ah, Ringo...

At times, the voice sounds a little wavery, a little off. Not that he was ever Pavarotti to begin with, understand, but the ol' pipes are starting to show some age. Still, given that Ringo eschews any sweetening of live tapes on his watch, one has to admire his warts and all approach. The sonic quality of the actual recording is superb, with the listener given a front row center seat, so as to best enjoy all the myriad musical nuances of this precisely recorded happening of love, peace, and classic rock chestnuts. Everyone involved, especially the boss man, is clearly enjoying themselves, and that pervasive attitude more than makes up for any minor glitches here, there, and (yes, Macca) everywhere!

So yeah, it's another live Ringo record. I don't suppose you NEED this, not the way you might need something like "Ringo Rama", but let's face it--if you've read this far, you're probably gonna buy it, aren't you? That is, if you haven't already. The only question that remains, then, is just WHY Ringo insists on continuing to croon "Boys"?

I mean, it's a great song and all, but when the Beatles covered this minor girl group hit, it was a far more innocent time, y'know? But even back in 1964, I thought it curious that the fellas were singing about wanting boys! Despite the history involved, the number just doesn't seem to fit Barbara's hubby anymore.

Elton John, sure, but not ol' Ringo...

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