Sunday, August 31, 2008

Darondo: A Lost Soul God Surfaces at Bumbershoot

The recent passing of the great Isaac Hayes really amplified one thing in my mind: There's nothing in the world like some sweet 60's and 70's soul music.

It's a style and era so well-represented and preserved--by major and indie-record labels, in books, on film, and on the web--that you'd think there was no such thing as great undiscovered vintage soul. Happily, Darondo was at Bumbershoot Saturday afternoon to knock that notion on its ass.

Long backstory short: Darondo cut three smoking soul singles in the early seventies, attained enough of a following in the Bay area at the time to wind up as an opening act for James Brown, then dropped off the face of the earth entirely for some twenty-five years. He'd been forgotten by everyone except for a few record-collecting obsessives, one of whom (British-based DJ Gilles Peterson) featured the singer's sublime "Didn't I" on the highly regarded Gilles Peterson Digs America CD compilation. Then at long last, independent label Luv n Haight collected those singles and a few unreleased demos, and put out Darondo's first-ever proper full-length, Let My People Go, in 2006.

I didn't know any of this when my pals (and fellow 2007 Bumbershooters) Bob Suh and Bob Bohan joined me in front of the Fisher Green Stage at Bumbershoot Saturday afternoon. I didn't need to.

Young San Francisco soul practitioner Nino Moschella and his backing band laid down a smoking set of throwdown old-school funk as a warm-up. Then Darondo--wiry and hyperkinetic in a flashy suit, gold sneakers, and white hat--hit the stage while Moschella and company backed him. The sexagenarian busted astonishing James Brown-cum-Michael Jackson moves, and belted out songs with a weathered tenor that suggested a cross between Al Green and The Spinners' Bobby Smith. He flat-out commanded the stage, delivering everything from moral indignation on "Let My People Go" to deliciously libidinous boudoir funk on "Legs". Dear God in a velour tuxedo, he was nothin' short of a revelation.

After that breathtaking live set, I scarfed up a copy of Let My People Go post-haste, and it does not disappoint. In some ways, it's as strong a testament to what could've been as it is to what actually was: The ragged grit of the recordings, the occasionally imprecise instrumentation, and Darondo's raw singing reveal a great talent just getting warmed up. But the nine tracks, rough diamonds all written or co-written by the man himself, still sparkle.

"Legs (Part 1)" positively presages Prince's "Kiss" with its weld of James Brown strut, falsetto, and driving pre-P-Funk grooving, and Darondo injects some booty-shaking groove into the plain-spoken familial love extolled in "My Momma and My Poppa." If you think you've heard every great tender soul ballad of the seventies, you won't be able to truly make that statement 'til you've spun Darondo's "Didn't I" and "Listen to My Song."

Great as the CD was, though, Darondo's Bumbershoot gig has me over the moon at the possibility of him writing and singing new material. He's arguably a more controlled singer, and that hard-earned mature vocal timbre sounded so phenomenal live that it'd be criminal for him not to get back in the saddle again--he's sure as hell got the chops. His MySpace page sports solid evidence for the defense in the form of a collaboration with Clutchy Hopkins, "Love of a Woman," and his delivery on it simmers like a slow-cooking pan of the best soul food.

Thanks to Bob Suh for the photos.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stop. Hey. What's That Sound?

Being a big old Luddite amongst all things technological, It takes me about a bazillion years to do anything new to this old Blog. But I've decided to add (cue rimshot) a playlist on the old Petri Dish!

Said Playlist includes selections from artists I've written about over the years on the Dish, so now you can hear (some of) the audio I've waxed rhapsodic about. Up top, a generous selection of tuneage from house favorite and recently-departed funk/soul God Among Men, Isaac Hayes. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Passings: Isaac Hayes--Musician, Actor, Badass

Chef died.

That's probably what all too many people thought when presented with the news that Isaac Hayes passed away at the age of 65. But remembering Hayes for South Park alone is a little like remembering Orson Welles strictly for doing the voice of Unicron in that 1986 Transformers movie. Long before he good-naturedly winked at his iconic persona in the guise of Chef, Isaac Hayes left a seismic impression on popular music.

I can't remember a time when some aspect of Isaac Hayes wasn't tincturing my life, whether it was hearing the immortal theme from Shaft at age five on the tinny car radio buried in my parents' old Chevy, watching the man menace the president of the USA in Escape from New York on my 14th birthday, combing used record racks for vinyl copies of the Truck Turner soundtrack and Isaac Hayes at the Sahara Tahoe in college, or watching him bring a crowd of apathetic Seattleites to a booty-shaking frenzy at Bumbershoot a few years back.

Enclosed please find a Petri Dish 101 devoted to the finest moments that Isaac Hayes committed to posterity, on vinyl and on film. And most of them do not include Eric Cartman or Mr. Hanky.

Essential Isaac Hayes recordings:

Hot Buttered Soul (Stax Records, 1969): Hayes composed some 200 tunes with co-writer David Porter, including the immortal "Hold on, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man" for Sam and Dave, but he made the leap from house composer to trailblazer with his second solo LP, 1969's Hot Buttered Soul. On the face of it, it was an unlikely commercial prospect: The album contained only four tracks (one of which clocked in at a whopping eighteen minutes), and with it Isaac Hayes effectively chucked the Three-Minute-Hit-Single format out the window. But Stax, Isaac's label, had just lost most of their back catalog to Atlantic Records, and--desperate for product to create a new catalog rapidly--the soul label gave him full creative control. Ultimately, the can't-miss melodies and throbbing grooves couldn't be denied and Hot Buttered Soul became a massive hit.

Hayes and his band boldly deconstructed and reimagined pop standards like the Bacharach/David chestnut "Walk on By" and Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" as soul epics, alternating between cascading strings and dirty fuzztone guitars while Hayes' bass-baritone wrung every bit of wounded pride out of the lyrics. Hot Buttered Soul proved to be the template for his work for several years, and its importance can't be overstated. Emboldened by the barrier-breaking of Isaac Hayes' work, other black artists began stretching their wings: I'd be willing to argue that without Hot Buttered Soul, there'd be no What's Going On, no Free Your Mind...And Your Ass will Follow, no Talking Book. And if you need evidence that the ripple effect leads squarely to today's music charts, look no further than this great Jamsbio page that showcases some of the hip-hop tracks that sampled The Man's work to hit-making effect.

...To Be Continued (Stax, 1970): Hayes followed Hot Buttered Soul with another atmospheric masterwork. To these ears, it's the most perfect synthesis of the Cinemascope Isaac Hayes Sound, from the evocative opener "Monologue/Ike's Rap I" to the impassioned slow burn of the climactic "Running Out of Fools". Hayes and his band, the Movement, psychedelicized another Bacharach/David number, "The Look of Love," stretching the song's sultry hooks like aphrodisiac taffy and essentially creating Barry White's entire career in eleven languid and sensual minutes.

Shaft Original Soundtrack (Stax, 1971): It's far from perfect, descending to the merely serviceable at times, but Shaft features the essential, full-length four-and-a-half minute workout of the immortal title track (not on any of Hayes' other albums as far as I know) , the classic jam "Do Your Thing," and several prime slabs of jazzy Hayes organ and instrumental shading. Best-kept secret of the soundtrack: The menacing, stacatto-guitar-spiked "Walk from Regio's."

Isaac Hayes Live at the Sahara Tahoe (Stax, 1973): Two solid hours of Isaac Hayes live during his Black Moses prime. It's actually pretty ragged in places, with the man's vocals veering way off-key during the super-sized cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine". But if Hayes wasn't as virtuostic a singer as fellow basso profundo Barry White, Black Moses took way more chances, reaching for notes that White woulda never bothered breaking a sweat on. The funky professionalism of his backup band The Movement--his soul-sister backing vocalists Hot Buttered Soul--likewise can't be denied, especially in this live setting. Hunt it down on vinyl if you can: The tiny compact-disc format pert near neuters the original issue's amazing gatefold photography and picture sleeve.

Branded (Point Blank Records, 1995): Isaac Hayes segued smoothly into the disco era of the late seventies with simpler, more beat-heavy variations on his soul stylings (documented on the interesting-if-inconsequential The Best of Isaac Hayes: The Polydor Years), and he parlayed a more watered-down synth-choked style throughout the eighties. But then came this late-career highpoint, an unforced return to the lush sound of his early seventies prime. "Let Me Love You" stands as one of his finest, most sensual jams, and he manages the seemingly impossible by rendering Sting's sorry ass soulful on a sharp cover of the ex-Police-man's "Fragile".

Ultimate Isaac Hayes--Can You Dig It? (Stax, 2005): This sizeable best-of covers Hayes' plum years at Stax, unearths some ace B-sides, and pulls up solid tracks from underrated mid-seventies platters like Chocolate Chip and Groove-a-Thon. Add to that a bonus DVD with Hayes in full early-seventies splendor during his incendiary Wattstax show (and, yes, a music video of that South Park sing-along "Chocolate Salty Balls"), and you've an ace starter kit for the man's unique body of musical work.

Isaac Hayes on Film:

Beginning in the early seventies, Isaac Hayes' larger-than-life image--shaved head, shades seemingly permanently affixed to his face, frequently shirtless--translated to a distinctive presence in front of the camera.

Isaac Hayes--The Black Moses of Soul (1973, on DVD with Sofa Entertainment/Goodtimes Video): The sound's a bit muddy and the direction uninspired, but this special stands as the most lengthy documentation of Hayes' elaborate, epic concert presentations during his Black Moses prime. His entrance alone--striding to the stage in psychedelic cape and floppy hat, and shedding the colorful cowl with messianic confidence to reveal a jacket forged of gold chains--makes every rapper and soul singer of the last twenty years look like a gawky wallflower.

Three Tough Guys (1974, Madacy Entertainment DVD): You can catch this unexceptional little wet fart of an action flick on Madacy Entertainment's first Grindhouse Experience box set. It moves like molasses uphill, but marks Hayes' first feature film lead. He acquits himself capably as a disgraced cop who joins priest Lino Ventura to recover $1,000,000 in stolen mob money. Fred "The Hammer" Williamson pops up to wear a snazzy red leather suit and be a badass, too.

Truck Turner (1974, MGM/UA DVD): Now THIS is more like it. Roger Corman protege/future multiple Emmy nominee Jonathan Kaplan directed this extremely entertaining blaxploitation effort starring Hayes as an ex-football star-turned-badass bounty hunter. He and his partner in skip-tracing (Alan Weeks) get targeted for a hit by Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols!), a foul-mouthed madam who sics rival pimp Blue (Yaphet Kotto) on Turner. Hayes makes a terrific action hero (and he wields a Magnum the size of an elephant's trunk with real authority), the script's rife with tasty pulp dialogue ("Anybody asks you what happened, tell 'em you been hit by a truck--Mac 'Truck' Turner!"), Hayes' score totally cooks, and Kaplan keeps things moving like a mutha. Absolutely essential for several reasons, including hearing Lieutenant Uhura turn the air blue with an industrial-strength load of profanity.

Escape from New York (1981, MGM/UA): One of the great joys of John Carpenter's political allegory in futuristic action clothing is the gallery of great character actors on hand. That Hayes' coolly tough turn as the Duke of New York stands proudly alongside the colorful work of Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, and Harry Dean Stanton speaks volumes about Hayes' charisma (and Carpenter's canny use of that badass image).

I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka (1988, MGM/UA): A decade before he endeared himself to South Park fans as Chef, Isaac Hayes sportingly took potshots at his image in Keenan Ivory Wayans' broad but frequently very funny blaxploitation spoof.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Playing Comic Book Movie Catch-Up

Hollywood's served up an ample platter of comic-book movies this summer, and as such I've logged in more multiplex time in the last three weeks than I did in the previous three months. All told, it's been time engagingly spent.

I've yet to see Hellboy II, but in the last two weekends I did catch most of the other comic book adaptations currently kicking around in theaters. The Incredible Hulk, Wanted, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight all got the job done--the latter two well enough to convince me that all that hype about comic-book movies being in the midst of some sort of renaissance is more than just smoke, mirrors, and word balloons.

If you questioned the wisdom of re-jiggering a Marvel Comics hero who just got the lavish big-screen treatment five years ago, well, so did I...Until a recent viewing of Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk on DVD, that is. Screw "Hulk SMASH!": The Chinese director's version of Marvel's rage-stoked green giant might as well be bellowing "Hulk CONTEMPLATE!" "Hulk BROOD!" "Hulk face DADDY ISSUES!!" and "Hulk CRY!"

The great thing about this summer's Incredible Hulk is that it's made by guys who know full well they're making popcorn entertainment about a wimp who OD's on radiation, gets pissed, turns green, and smashes the crap out of things. As engineered by Transporter 2 director Louis Leterrier, The Incredible Hulk moves at the unself-conscious brisk pace of a really good B-movie.

It's sort of a sequel to Ang Lee's film, but (thank God) functions just fine without a perfunctory view of the latter. Leterrier consigns the entire experimentation/gamma ray inundation/military pursuit backstory to a dialogue-free introductory montage, then dives squarely into the pulp-Fugitive motif popularized by the 1970's TV adaptation. Scientist Bruce Banner (well-played here by Edward Norton rather than sulky Eric Bana) is in hiding in South America, working quietly in a guarana soda factory while he searches during his off-time for a cure to his, um, problem. His gamma-rage-infected blood gives him away, the military again gives chase, and the fugitive flees back to America to locate a fellow scientist who may hold the key to reversing Banner's condition. Oh, and Banner gets pissed, turns green, and smashes the crap out of things. A LOT of things.

Ironically, the new Hulk clocks in a good half-hour shorter than Ang Lee's bowl of gamma-gruel, yet still feels a lot more satisfying--and not just because Hulk Smash more things. We actually see Norton's Banner using his brain with some frequency, and Leterrier and screenwriter Zak Penn manage that fine pulp-movie hat trick of keeping the exposition lean without making Banner's character feel cardboard. There's a terrific pursuit scene at the beginning that doesn't sport a lick of CGI, and when the special-effects clobbering time kicks in it's clear that this crew knows how to stage action scenes with verve and energy to spare.

Make no mistake, this new Hulk could never be mistaken for a masterpiece. William Hurt (an actor I happen to like a lot) utterly phones in his performance as General Ross; Liv Tyler makes a charming romantic partner for Banner, but a laughably unconvincing scientist; the climactic action scene goes on a bit long; and a computer-generated Hulk is, to these jaded eyes, no more convincing than Lou Ferrigno in green body paint and a silly wig. But there's no denying that the new film's makers have their hearts in the right place: In addition to cameos by Ferrigno and Hulk co-creator Stan Lee, the late Bill Bixby (TV's David Bruce Banner) makes a posthumous appearance via a clip from his old sitcom, The Courtship of Eddie's Father.

Another European young-buck --Russian director Timur Bekmambetov--guides Wanted, an action flick based on the comic series of the same name by Mark Millar. And with its Office Space meets The Matrix on Leon The Professional's action dime framework it's as high-concept as high-concept gets.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a directionless plebe in a thankless office job until he gets reluctantly inducted into The Fraternity, a secret society of skilled assassins who utilize their uniquely lethal talents to maintain order in an increasingly order-less world. Angelina Jolie plays Fox, Wesley's tutor in the art of professional killing, and Morgan Freeman adds a malevolent twist to his traditional paternal stability as The Fraternity's quietly effective leader Sloan.

Expect nothing but wildly-exaggerated and hyperkinetic action scenes arrestingly peopled by beautiful and charismatic people, and you'll have as good a time with Wanted as I did. There's a right way and a wrong way to do over-the-top ballets of violence, and Bekmambetov sports chops that place him squarely in the winner's circle. The plot's hooey, of course, but Wanted gives the kind of adrenaline-amplified thrills that the Wachowski Brothers can't be troubled to serve up anymore. Plus Wanted reunites Angelina Jolie and guns, a combination as essential to summer movie enjoyment as butter and movie-theater popcorn.

Speaking of well-wrought combinations, director Jon Favreau earned some major respect in this corner for casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in his cinematic adaptation of Marvel Comics' Iron Man. In case you've been living under a rock for the last two months, the critical huzzahs and big box office have ably proved Favreau's gut correct.

Iron Man follows the saga of Stark, a charming but shallow billionaire techno-whiz/playboy whose jet-set lifestyle gets literally shot out from under him. Trapped in terrorist-infected Afghanistan, he rediscovers his soul and uses his technical skills to escape his captors and become an unlikely superhero.

Believe the hype regarding Downey's performance. He's perfect here, creating a totally believeable flesh-and-blood character that's probably not far-removed from the wayward and at-times-troubled actor himself. Refreshingly, he's well-served by the rest of the ensemble (how often do you hear that word bandied about in the context of a superhero opus?). Gwyneth Paltrow makes a plucky, resourceful, and enchanting gal Friday, Jeff Bridges amusingly plays a heavy just a few steps removed from your average real-world boardroom, and Terence Howard imbues his second-banana role with no-bull resolve.

The screenplay sets up Stark's Iron Man origin story so well that it's almost a letdown when the final act throws down with the more routine superheroics (ironically enough, the final battle between Iron Man and a much larger and scarier rival plays very similarly to The Incredible Hulk's last action setpiece). But the journey up to that point stays brisk, funny, smart, and pretty grown-up-- or at least as grown-up as a PG-13-rated movie about a dude in an iron super-suit can get. This one's a keeper, folks, and I can hardly wait for a sequel.

Finally, what more can I add about The Dark Knight now that I've joined the masses that have seen it? That it exceeds every inflated expectation that critics and audiences have built up? That it richly deserves the obscenely gargantuan piles of box office cash hurled at it? That if you cut every action scene out, a riveting and solidly-plotted crime drama would still emerge? That its rich darkness compliments and improves Batman Begins in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back did Star Wars? That it actually takes the hoary modern-action-flick cliche of Two Big Finales in a Row and makes it work? That the actors from top to bottom gel brilliantly (thank you, dear Gods of Casting, for extracting Katie Holmes from the franchise)? No, if you've seen it or read a sentence about it, you know all of this already.

Though it's likewise just crowing along with the masses, there's no such thing as too much praise for the performance that forms The Dark Knight's dense core. Heath Ledger disappears into the Joker so seamlessly, with such animal abandon, that you forget you're watching an actor: His interpretation merits inclusion right alongside Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, Cape Fear's Max Cady, and White Heat's Cody Jarrett in the great Rogues' Gallery of Classic Screen Villains. Really. All of my recent trips to Comic Book Multiplex Land rewarded on some level, but Ledger's work drags The Dark Knight squarely into the realm of masterpiece.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sub-Pop 20 and Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band: Sun, Song, and Nostalgia

A flag emblazoned with the basic black-and-white logo of Sub Pop Records waved from the Space Needle's spire a couple of weeks ago, and it damn near made me cry when I saw it from my workplace rooftop that Friday.

The draperie flew to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Seattle's most famous record label, and the celebration culminated at Marymoor Park the weekend of July 12 with a two-day music festival that featured bands from every phase of the label's history.

I was lucky enough to be at Ground Zero when Sub Pop first came thundering out of this part of the world, forging a sound that became known by the lemmings in the media as Grunge and changing the world's perception of this sleepy little big city I live in. One of my first 21+ shows was a gig at the Central Tavern in 1988. On the bill: Mother Love Bone's Andrew Wood and Stone Gossard, Mudhoney, Denver punk band The Fluid, and Soundgarden. Through some miracle of God and nature I'd even scored an interview with the latter that night, years before they became worldwide arena-rock gods. It was a great time to be a rock-and-roll-loving college kid.

So Sub Pop 20 Irony of Ironies Number One: Saturday's Sub Pop 20 jam replicated half of that bill, and damned if both bands didn't rip it up with the abandon of a buncha young pups. Seattle sons Mudhoney have always been the Nolan Ryans of Seattle rock--they've pounded out the same Iggy-Pop-cum-Ramones wall of noise with nearly the same line-up lo these last twenty years--and they cemented their rep with a shredding set that hauled out grunge-era classics like "Touch Me I'm Sick" alongside new piledrivers like the insanely catchy "I'm Now". Lead yelper Mark Arm left his guitar alone, yowling like Iggy on a bender and leaving the rest of the band to cough up bruised garage riffs like barbed-wire furballs.

The big surprise for me amongst the old guard acts was The Fluid, whose straightahead garage punk didn't impress me terribly way back in the day. This gig marked the band's first full-fledged show together in fifteen years, and simply put, they blew me away. Though most of the band looked decidedly long in the tooth, they powered through their 45-minute-long set with jackhammer force, and the songs, well, they were tight, punchy, catchy, and anthemic as hell. Best of all, vocalist John Robinson brought his best Mick Jagger-cum-Iggy foot forward: He sounded and looked like he hadn't aged an hour over the last two-plus decades. We all should be so lucky.

Sub Pop 20 Irony of Ironies, Number Two: The old geezers rocked the hardest while the young bucks kept it mellow. I'd only heard one track from Fleet Foxes prior to the Sub Pop 20 (the gorgeous "White Water Hymnal", which can be easily accessed via the band's MySpace page), but their magnificent set that afternoon converted me thoroughly. Their sound elegantly blends traditional folk, Appalacian bluegrass, Brian Wilson/Beach Boys harmony, and the haunted grandeur of the Zombies into an utterly fresh and achingly beautiful new thing. And when they broke into stunning three-and-four part harmonies at the drop of a straw hat, you could color me smitten. Minnesota natives Low, meanwhile, took it down several notches with a sensual narcotic drone that went down really well in the July sun (color me smitten by them, too). Second-to-last act Samuel Beam (better known as Iron and Wine) maintained the chill vibe, but his earnest Neil Young-isms lacked the stick-to-itiveness of Low or Fleet Foxes.

Which leads to Sub Pop 20 Irony of Ironies Number Three: The biggest selling act on Sub Pop's roster of artists right now ain't some skull-crushing grunge outfit, nor is it some earnest bunch of folkies. Nope, the mantle of the label's current Golden Goose belongs to two New Zealand clowns currently purveying some of the most hysterical musical parody this side of Spinal Tap.

Sub Pop's been building an impressive roster of comedy recordings from the likes of David Cross and Patton Ostwalt lately, but The Flight of the Conchords look to be (hyperbole alert!) the Beatles of the Sub Pop Comedy Invasion. The duo's evening-ending set packed Marymoor Park to the gills, turning hundreds of grown women into shrieking little schoolgirls (including yours truly's significant other): If the outdoor venue woulda had a roof, they'd've brought it down with two acoustic guitars and a boatload of sharp wit.

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie have parlayed their brilliant audio parodies into the best comedy on TV right now (that'd be, um, HBO's Flight of the Conchords), on which they play struggling New Zealand musicians eking out a living in the Big Apple. But live playing is where they really shine, replicating everything from boudoir funk (on the hilarious "Business Time") to Donovan hippy-pop ("The Prince of Parties") to gangsta rap ("Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros") with only their voices and a couple of acoustic guitars as backup. The songs are funny enough, but these guys shore up the yocks with honest-to-God hooks, harmonies, and song structures as solid as any 'serious' band.

They didn't play their finest composition (the jaw-droppingly brilliant and pants-soilingly funny David Bowie parody, "Bowie"), but they played most of their other favorites with enthusiasm and had the whole audience eating out of their hands by night's end. Who'da thunk that a couple of court jesters would save The Label that Nirvana built?

(Memo to all of my lady friends with rampant crushes on both Conchords, by the way: Jemaine and Bret looked much the same as they do on the show, except Jemaine's mane of curly brown hair was a bit longer and messier than usual and Bret looked a lot taller in person. They seem like really nice, funny regular guys. And yes, they're both cute as buttons in real life, a proclamation put to the test by the dark photo above, shot by the missus.)

One week later, any pretense of averting nostalgia was shot to hell when I attended Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band's set at Chateau ste. Michelle. Screw jaded post-modern cynicism: It was the first time I got to see a Beatle live, and it couldn't have been more of a blast. Enclosed please find the closest thing to a clear shot I snagged that night: The former Beatles drummer would be the third smudge from the left.

The Happy Beatle's been doing All-Starr shows for years now, and every tour follows the same pattern. Ringo puts together a backing band made up of several familiar musical faces (most of whom have hits of their own); they cover several Beatles songs, as well as key Ringo Starr solo tracks; each member of the band gets to trot out their own hit(s) for the approving audience; and they finish out with a Beatles sing-along. It's pure warm-and-fuzzy good times.

Among Ringo's instrumental back-up were bassist Hamish Stewart of the Average White Band (he laid a supple bottom end to the band's cover of that funk instrumental gem, "Pick Up the Pieces"), keyboardist/70's hitmaker Gary Wright (who played both of his AM gold classics, "Dreamweaver" and "Love is Alive"), Men at Work lead singer/guitarist Colin Hay (representing the new wave contingent with "Down Under" and "Who Can it Be Now"), Texas boogie-bluesman Edgar Winter (who rotated through various instruments and laid down scary keyboards on his seventies instrumental rock gem, "Frankenstein"), and eighties arena rocker Billy Squier (purveyor of Reagan-era Camaro fodder like "Everybody Wants You").

The audience would've probably eaten the two-hour-plus set up regardless of the quality--after all, the show was chock-full of old hits from the sixties, seventies, and eighties and cheap and tasty wine flowed freely. Blessedly, the show was tight enough to beat back any charges of laurel-resting. Rabid Beatlemaniac (and fellow concertgoer) Bob Suh had already seen Ringo's All-Starr jam twice previously, and he said this one was by far the best. I can see why. At age 68, Starr's looking and sounding more robust than ever, and when he wasn't out front singing he was behind the drum kit lending rock's most famous backbeat to the mini-sets by his bandmates (all of these classic-rock warhorses, incidentally, seriously cooked). Hearing the Beatles' drummer accompanying Squier on that arena-rock classic, "The Stroke" hit the realm of the surreal, but it really hit home Starr's un-snobby joy at playing. And that joy was infectious.