From his center-stage position, Ringo Starr looked out at the assembled throng and smiled.
"Here's a song I used to do with that other band I used to be with," he said with a smile. The crowd roared in anticipation.
"Yes," he said, "Rory Storm and the Hurricanes!" And Starr went right ahead and sang "Boys," which he sang with the Liverpool skiffle group before he joined that other band that went on to become a lot better-known.
Funny thing, I don't believe that Starr ever uttered the word "Beatles" onstage Sunday night -- even though his time in the group was the reason he drew a packed house to the Durham Performing Arts Center. And while he did mention his two late Beatle bandmates (George Harrison and John Lennon), the very-much-alive Paul McCartney's name never came up. Some of his best-known signatures went missing, too, including "Octopus's Garden," "You're Sixteen," "Oh My My" and "The No No Song."
Nevertheless, it was a mighty fun two hours. Starr has been touring with an "All-Starr Band" since the late 1980s, and this latest edition was mighty fine. Between Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter and Gary Wright, who all got multiple turns in the spotlight, it felt like tuning in a really good AM top-40 station circa 1975.
Starr came bouncing onstage to the strains of "It Don't Come Easy," looking very spry and agile despite just having turned 70 four days earlier. And while he established very clearly that this wasn't going to be "The Beatles Show," he did project an endearing amiability as he smiled broadly, flashed peace signs and led the applause himself with his drumsticks.
After three songs from Starr to open the show, it was time for his sidemen's star turns. It was the perfect format for this class of rock star, in which each did their two big hits as Starr provided quips, rimshots and backbeats.
Derringer offered up "Hang on Sloopy" and "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo," the latter with an extended guitar solo that had jaws dropping. Winter still sounded fantastic on "Free Ride," and Wright's "Dream Weaver" was as spacy and weird as ever. The band had a couple of '80s ringers, too, Richard Page from Mr. Mister and Wally Palmer from the Romantics, who both did exactly the songs you'd expect ("Talking in Your Sleep," "What I Like About You," "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings").
Still, Starr was the main event. I could have done with a few less new songs (including two from this year's "Y Not" album), especially since the warmth in the room increased a thousand-fold whenever he did one of those Beatles oldies.
He prefaced one of them by saying that it hadn't gotten a great response the night before, so he was thinking of dropping it from the set unless it went over better in Durham. The song in question was "With a Little Help From My Friends," and fear not, it isn't going anywhere.
Then there was "Yellow Submarine." Starr didn't identify it by name, but he said he expected everyone to sing along and that anybody who didn't know it was "at the wrong venue." No worries, everyone knew every word and it was the most raucous sing-along of the evening. And afterward, the crowd broke into an impromptu "Happy Birthday." As the crowd applauded, Starr smiled again.
"I searched," he said, "but I did not find your gift."