Time has been good to Ringo Starr. So has sobriety.
The Beatles drummer, who turned 79 last month, is an energetic and groove-oriented onstage presence, 30 years removed from rehab, and 30 years into leading his own All Starr Band.
That act hit Berglund Coliseum on Tuesday night, its leader making his first appearance on a Roanoke stage. Starr was an excellent host for a night of greatest hits — his own, and those of four of his band members.
"Are you ready to have some fun?" the peace sign-flashing Starr asked the crowd. "Are you ready to hear some good music? I promise, every one of you in the audience will know at least one song."
That line got a good laugh from many in the audience of 4,293, in a half-hall configuration set up for 4,500 capacity. Turned out that many in the crowd knew a bunch of songs in the 125-minute set.
They knew Ringo's songs, including his show-opening, early Beatles-era cover of Carl Perkins' "Matchbox." They knew his solo-career gems, "It Don't Come Easy," which he co-wrote with fellow Beatle George Harrison, and pop chart-topper "Photograph." They knew another No. 1, too: His cover of the Sherman Brothers tune, "You're Sixteen." He delivered those and more in the same languid, croony baritone from all those years ago.
In the #metoo era, "You're Sixteen" has received a fair share of criticism, and it felt extra weird when Starr dedicated it to "all the young girls in the audience, and all the girls who are young at heart." Watching elderly couples in the audience, arm in arm and swaying to the song, mitigated it a bit. It was a nostalgia kick for them, but in a show so chock full of nostalgia, few would have missed it. C'mon, Sir Richard Starkey — do the "No No" song, instead.
Aside from that three minutes of creepiness, the concert was a lot of fun, and it covered a lot of chart-topping territory.
Santana (and Journey) founding member Gregg Rolie introduced his first number, "Evil Ways," as a number that Santana played 50 years ago, at Woodstock, when he "was a fetus." He introduced "Black Magic Woman" as one he did with Santana when he "was 2." He sounded as he had back then, a spooky steeliness to his voice, with a swirling Hammond organ style for the instrumental sections.
Toto's Steve Lukather brought that band's hits, "Rosanna" and "Africa," the latter re-ignited in recent years when Weezer covered it. All Starr utility man Warren Ham brought the high vocal part and blew some hot sax (more on him later). From this reviewer's spot in the room, Lukather's guitar was down in the mix far too often, which was a special disappointment during his guitar solo on "Hold The Line" and his six-string leads on the burning portions of Santana numbers.
Lukather picked up Hamish Stuart's bass when the former Average White Band member — and Paul McCartney sideman — strapped on a Fender Telecaster for AWB numbers "Pick Up The Pieces," "Cut The Cake" and that band's cover of Isley Brothers' song "Work To Do." Stuart, a groove master on both instruments, told the crowd he remembered playing Roanoke in 1975 or 1976, when the Scottish funksters of AWB were on their roll.
Former Men at Work frontman and songwriter Colin Hay had highlights beyond his own songs. Yes, he did the Australian act's "Down Under," "Overkill" and "Who Can It Be Now." "Overkill," in particular, is a great song in any context, and his vocals were haunting. Surprisingly, it was Hay and not Lukather who funked up the guitar part on AWB's "Cut The Cake," and Hay hit the high vocal parts on "Africa," giving it a unique flavor that an all-star band is all about.
The sidemen contributed crucial ingredients to the night's music. Ham, a touring member of Toto who played with the band at Rocky Mount's Harvester Performance Center in 2017, delivered solo after solo with wind instrument versatility, and provided high vocal notes for the band's 5-part, and sometimes 6-part, harmonies. While Hay led the All Starrs through "Down Under," Ham delivered the flute line that gave the song its buoyancy. His percussion work often filled out the sound with class.
Drummer and harmony singer Gregg Bissonette, like Lukather and Rolie, is a relatively permanent member of the All Starr Band in recent years. His rhythmic mastery included nailing the iconic halftime shuffle that the late Jeff Porcaro laid down on "Rosanna," and his grooves on the AWB stuff were both bouncy and urgent. He provided a show highlight with a ferocious drum solo on "Gypsy Queen," the roiling second part of "Black Magic Woman." Dude made a collection of All Starr-caliber funny drummer faces, too.
Most importantly, Bissonette locked in perfectly with the show's actual Starr. Ringo is among a handful one of mono-moniker entertainers for a reason. His drumming is full of personality, with expert time-keeping. He hasn't lost any of that, and he still sings right on target while he plays, as he did on Tuesday during "Don't Pass Me By" — a Starr original that the Beatles recorded — and another Fab Four ditty, "I Wanna Be Your Man."
He delighted the crowd with "Yellow Submarine," 2012 "peace and love" ode "Anthem" and signature songs "Act Naturally" and "With A Little Help From My Friends." He closed the show with that Beatles classic, the band and audience all pitching in on that wonderfully structured bridge — "Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love / Could it be anybody? / I want somebody to love."
He tagged the end of that one with a bit of the late John Lennon's classic, "Give Peace A Chance."
"I love you all," he said. "Remember — peace and love."