BROOKER AT THE BAT : Gary Scores Home-Runs With the All-Starrs
The Westbury Music Fair is a venue notorious for tight security. The presence of no less than Ringo Starr no-doubt stepped things up a notch. The small crowd that had begun to gather near the artists' entrance as early as 11 am (the performance was scheduled for 7 pm) shivered in the bitter-cold air. Hands and toes were numb but, hopefully, to be warmed soon near the 'blaze' of greatness or at least a glimpse of such rock icons as Ringo Starr, Jack Bruce or what's his name you know, the guy that sang that song about tripping fandangos Gary something.
By the end of the evening everybody knew who Gary Brooker was.
The group of brave pre-concert hopefuls never did get close to the band members, who were surreptitiously spirited into the auditorium, but the chill began to wear off as the theater lights dimmed and the show started: Ladies and gentlemen Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band! Featuring Gary Brooker, Jack Bruce, Todd Rundgren, Simon Kirk and Timmy Cappello! Yes! What a line-up! Of course my wife, Carina, and I are Homburg Society members, so we're a little Ok, very biased toward Gary Brooker. The truth is, even with this legend-heavy line-up, if Gary wasn't in the band we wouldn't have been in the theatre.
On with the show! Here's the set list:
|It Don't Come Easy||Ringo|
|I Saw The Light||Todd|
|Sunshine of Your Love||Jack|
|Love Me Do||Ringo|
|A Salty Dog||Gary|
|Hammer In My Heart||Todd|
|I'm The Greatest||Ringo|
|The No-No Song||Ringo|
|Back Off Boogaloo||Ringo|
|I Feel Free||Jack|
|All Right Now||Simon|
|I Wanna Be Your Man||Ringo|
|Bang the Drum All Day||Todd|
|A Whiter Shade of Pale||Gary|
|A Little Help From My Friends||Ringo|
Palers take note Gary sang harmony vocals in every song (including a 'lead harmony' with Jack Bruce on I Feel Free) except Sunshine of Your Love. He played electric piano on all songs except It Don't Come Easy, All Right Now, I Wanna Be Your Man, Bang The Drum All Day & White Room on these songs Gary played organ.
All that glitters isn't necessarily fool's gold and Gary certainly did shine on. Here are a few specifics about Gary's role that should be of interest to Palers:
Gary was in fine voice and played the keyboard part to perfection. The unfortunate part was that this is- let's face it- a 'guitar song' and Todd Rundgren was simply not equal to the task! The main riff simply wasn't played with confidence and the soloing meandered and lacked a sense of direction. One has to question the wisdom of this choice under the circumstances.
PS it took 2 drummers and 1 percussionist to 'replace' BJ's part (and it was simplified, at that!)
A Salty Dog
This was done full-band. Gary's playing and singing were true to form. Although Gary was well received earlier, this great moment provided the first 'chills' of the evening. The audience reaction was very good there seemed to be a fair amount of recognition and applause both at the opening chords and the opening lyrics. Special moments were at a premium, but this certainly was one of them. No real surprises here, but Jack Bruce did some noticeably 'nice' bass work in this always-moving piece.
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Certainly a high-point of the evening! This is where all of those people who weren't quite sure who Gary was were smacked into reality! No, this was not Procol Harum, it was the All-Starrs but there are some songs that are so inherently right in their basic composition that they will always shine! Gary's signature vocal rang true sure, some stylistic elements were not there. There was no Matthew Fisher, no BJ but the song was there, and produced one of the biggest and most sustained ovations of the night. I heard at least one report of someone bursting out in tears at the first few notes. A special song but you already know that, don't you?
The All-Starrs are a fun concert band but not without problems. In my own opinion this version of the band lacked a strong guitarist. Todd Rundgren's skills as a lead guitar player certainly showed his limitations. Filling in guitar parts originally established by the likes of Robin Trower and Eric Clapton is no enviable task. One wonders if it's wise to even 'go there' if you're not sufficiently armed. Todd certainly has stage presence and plenty of energy but he also seems to be cynical at the same time. He's having fun, yes but I wondered at whose expense? The 'Die Yuppie Scum' T-shirt he wore and the Joey Ramone imitation that he seems to be stuck in didn't fit in with the overall attitude of the rest of the band. Certainly, Todd is a fine artist with a lot of solid material behind him maybe it was an odd, un-typical performance, but this was the impression left by his constant posturing and 'look-at-me-I'm-a-rock-star' stage persona.
Following the show, we soldiered on once again braving the elements and went around the bend to try to get a glimpse of band-members. Earlier, the best I could do was to get a security guard to give Gary a new T-shirt that I'd designed to replace the one that I gave him in '95. The guard's assurances that it would get to Gary weren't too assuring. As we watched the cars escape into the echoes in the night, we thought that all was lost but wait! Another car was leaving the artists' exit area. Through the glass we made out that dignified white-haired rocker that we'd come to see (onstage this evening he wore a kind-of beret along with a dress-shirt, vest and pants). We started chasing the car was it him or just a trick of the night (I've got to stop doing that!)?! It was Gary! Before too long it was a small mob that was chasing the car. Eventually, the driver stopped and Gary graciously greeted us, confirmed that, yes he did get the shirt, thanks, shook hands and left. I think that he was surprised that after a night of legends had passed, that there was still a gang of people interested in him. One wonders can he realize what his music means to so many of us? Certainly, Gary deserves a paycheck for having fun onstage and I do hope he's having fun, because he should be the front-man whenever he's performing. Ringo is fun look up 'affable' in the dictionary, you'll see his picture.
But, The Commander!? you can't call, 'all hands on deck!' in a submarine.
Not even a yellow one.
Many thanks to Bert Saraco for this excellent report
Newsday (a New York newspaper) reviewed
the above All-Starr show at Westbury
(2/21/99) and included the following lines pertaining to The Commander:
'Former Procol Harum frontman and keyboardist Gary Brooker delivered irresistibly foot-stomping barrel-house blues with Whisky Train, but it was his organ-fuelled Whiter Shade of Pale that sent the boomer crowd into ecstasy. '
'Ecstasy!' Hear that? Ecstasy! That's our boy!
More Ringo / Gary dates another review of this concert