Of the members of the Beatles, I guess the joke through the years is that Ringo Starr was the least musically adept of the Liverpool quartet, even when compared to the band members no longer with us, in their present condition. However, Ringo has carved out a niche for himself where he performs songs from the catalog that he wrote and/or sung on his own, but as a solo artist he has brought out accompanying musicians who were versed in their own right and the tours have actually been not too shabby, and this performance (filmed as part of the PBS Soundstage series) falls in that category.
The concert's actual date remains a mystery to this writer, but the show itself aired in 2005 and was shot at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois, a venue that looks similar in tradition to other older theatres with two or even three balconies and a large space that sounds acoustically beneficial. Even at barely an hour long, judging from the playlist you can tell Ringo packs as much in as he can. The list is as follows:
"It Don't Come Easy"
"I Wanna Be Your Man"
"Who Can It Be Now?"
"Don't Pass Me By"
"I'm the Greatest"
"Give Me Back the Beat"
"Memphis in Your Mind"
"Back off Boogaloo"
"With a Little Help From My Friends"
So yeah, he plays the hits, and plays to those that are curious to see him, how he's held up age wise and how the songs sound these days. And in terms of being a front man, Ringo is still a good drummer. When he is not in front of the skins, he sways back and forth to the music, occasionally throwing up a peace sign to the crowd who is clapping along to the beat and singing to the lyrics. And when he does play the drums, he alternates between sitting on some of the songs and playing a standing three-piece drum set. So if you took Sheila E. and replaced her with a 60-year old scouser, you would have Ringo playing this standing set.
On the flip side, when you see "Who Can It Be Now?" in the set list and wonder why a song from the '80s Aussie band Men at Work is in there, that's because Colin Hay appears and performs vocals on it. Hay avails himself well on the song, and it makes me wonder how many other songs Hay got to do on stage, if any at all. Starr has allowed other musicians in the past a moment or two to shine on his tours (Joe Walsh being one that comes to mind from the All-Star Band tour of the early '90s) and I would imagine Hay had something similar, but if there are songs from that performance, they aren't on the disc.
That said, for folks who like Ringo and his carefree nature, it certainly comes through on this performance with his band (lovingly called the Roundheads). He gives Beatles fans what they want, he introduces others to his new solo material (the concert was part of a tour supporting his album "Choose Love") both new and old, and other artists such as Hay are given the chance to reclaim some nice glory. A Ringo Starr concert may not be a mind-blower, but it is a nice stroll back in time similar to easing into a warm bath, which is I guess what Ringo's going for with these concerts.
The concert is presented in an AVC encoded 1.78:1 widescreen presentation in 1080i, consistent with similar concert Blu-rays. Flesh tones are reproduced accurately and black levels are consistent through most of the quickie concert, with colors looking sharp and without much bleed through. There tends to be some image noise at times through the concert, but the lighting of the show has a lot to do with that. Oddly enough I recall surfing television channels recently and seeing the concert on one of the high-definition channels, and this disc replicates this look nicely.
You have your choice of a two-channel PCM stereo track or a DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 lossless one. In attempting some switching on the fly, one of the things I noticed is that the crowd noise on the six-channel track is a bit more prevalent than in other concert Blu-rays I can recall witnessing. Maybe this was part of the original master, but to me I was a bit turned off by the excessive adulation. It takes away from the broader soundstage to the point where it is almost shrunk by it. The PCM track might be the better way to go for audiophiles vis a vis this disc.
Ringo Starr and the Roundheads is as guilt-free a performance as you'll find. Is it musically adept? I guess. Are you going to remember it a week from now? No. It is a nice reclamation of youth for those who enjoyed the Beatles and in particular, enjoyed whenever the other guy sang. Technically it is average and the lack of extras on the disc makes it less of a buying suggestion and more of a renting one.