Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band Tour 2003 Review

When asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, John Lennon replied that he wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles. However, like a lot of things Lennon said, it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Certainly the popular image of Ringo as one of the luckiest men alive, making his name and a vast fortune on the much greater talent of three other men, needs re-examining. While no-one will make any great claims for his singing (though it has to be said that he sung lead vocals on a Number One single with the Beatles, something which George Harrison only achieved solo), nor for his handful of songwriting contributions to the group’s catalogue, that’s both true and beside the point. It’s as a musician that Starr’s influence is greatest, as along with other innovators like Charlie Watts and Keith Moon, he redefined pop/rock drumming in the 1960s. If anyone is in any doubt, just listen to “Rain” (Starr’s own personal favourite), “She Said She Said”, “Tomorrow Never Knows” among others, then say that this man couldn’t play the drums. (To clear up the issue of Paul McCartney’s drumming contributions to the Beatles, it is true that he is behind the kit on some Beatles tracks. Some of these came about in the group’s dying days, when Starr had temporarily walked out: “Back in the USSR” is the best-known of these. On other tracks McCartney played the drums but then he played everything else as well. And it’s also true that on the first recording of “Love Me Do”, Starr was replaced by a session drummer.)

If you watch A Hard Day’s Night nowadays, Starr’s persona is already in place. The oldest Beatle, he was also the most down-to-earth and for the most part avoided the others’ drug-and-mysticism-related excesses. If it is true that the Beatles, up until the time when they began to come apart, acted as a four-part gestalt, greater than the sum of its individual parts, then Starr’s contribution to that is as vital as that of the other three. For the most part, he acted the company clown, and you can see that in this documentary. Even in 2003, in his Sixties, he’s ready with a joke, to the extent that you wonder if he’s determined to avoid any closer scrutiny. After a creditable solo career, stabs at movie acting, not to mention alcoholism and rehab, he’s back on the road playing with a band made up of his (somewhat younger) peers, with nothing to prove and clearly having a great time. This documentary, following his 2003 tour of North America, was shot for American Public Television.

On this 2003 tour, his fellow band members were as follows, Paul Carrack (keyboards, vocals), Sheila E (drums, percussion, vocals), Colin Hay (guitar, vocals), Mark Rivera (saxophone, guitar and band leader) and John Waite (bass, guitar, vocals). It’s a distinguished lineup, many of whom have or have solo careers as well as playing in other bands. The former Beatle may be nominally the star (pun intended) but no-one is a makeweight and everyone has their solo spots. Some of them bring some of their own songs with them into the show, notably Waite’s solo hit “Missing You” and Hay’s hits with his band Men at Work. It’s very much a group effort.

The tracklist is as follows, with Ringo Starr as lead vocalist unless indicated:
“It Don’t Come Easy”
“Honey Don’t”
“Memphis in Your Mind”
“How Long” (Paul Carrack)
“Down Under” (Colin Hay)
“When I See You Smile” (John Waite)
“Love Bizarre” (Sheila E.)
“I Wanna Be Your Man”
“Yellow Submarine”
“Living Years” (Paul Carrack)
“Who Can It Be Now” (Colin Hay)
“Missing You” (John Waite)
“Glamorous Life” (Sheila E.)
“Don’t Pass Me By”
“With a Little Help from My Friends”

The DVD is non-anamorphic, with a ratio that varies between full-screen 4:3 backstage and 16:9 on stage. Both shot on video, the concert footage is better lit than the rest, though it’s not quite as sharp as it could have been and some artefacting is visible in places though isn’t distracting. It’s a more than acceptable non-anamorphic picture: an anamorphic transfer would be a little sharper, but not so that most people would notice.

The backstage footage sometimes feels like it comes from a different film spliced into the concert footage, an impression enhanced by certain factors I’ll go into when I discuss this DVD’s technical specs. In contrast with the carefully staged and lit concert material, the backstage content is a little shambolic, filmed on the run somewhat, and rather muddily lit and coloured with poor shadow detail in places. Part of it consists of interviews with the band members, plus Starr’s comments on them. It’s all a little jokey and none too revealing. Maybe this should have been an extra and the concert the main feature in an anamorphic transfer?

The impression of this being two features spliced together is compounded by the soundtrack. It’s available in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. The latter does not play as Dolby Surround in ProLogic mode (I tried). Apart from the surround information, which is mostly crowd noise, there’s not a great deal of difference between the two tracks, though the 5.1 has a slight edge in definition. However, even the 2.0 redirected the bass into my subwoofer. Not a lot in it either way. In either mode, the backstage material is pretty much monophonic.

Although there is a “Play Show” option, there are separate menus for the concert material (“Songs”) and backstage (“Documentary”). There are thirty-nine chapter stops in all, with yellow subtitles in various languages, which just for once subtitle song lyrics as well as dialogue. The DVD is encoded for Regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

The main extra is an additional song, filmed at a rehearsal in Toronto. It features the band (minus Starr) performing “Here Comes the Sun”. It’s in 4:3 with the same choice of soundtracks as the main feature, and runs 2:54. The other extras are biographies of the band, a colour stills gallery and a Ringo discography. In the latter, click on a thumbnail of an album cover and a track listing appears.

Ringo Star and His All Star Band Tour 2003 is hardly the most “relevant” music DVD you’ll ever see and fashionable types would no doubt not wish to be seen with a copy. But it’s a record of a group of talented musicians enjoying themselves and putting on a good show, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d have preferred the concert footage uninterrupted and the backstage stuff as an extra, but at least you can skip past it if you want to.

7 out of 10
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