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Starr gets summer tour in gear at Falls casino; He's looking at 70, but Beatles drummer puts together another All-Starr crew

As he bounded onto the stage of the Avalon Ballroom, dressed in a black leather jacket, skinny jeans and a hipster T-shirt, Ringo Starr looked like anything but a man staring his 70th birthday in the face.

Presiding over a brief performance and news conference for the media Wednesday in the Niagara Fallsview Casino, Starr wore his Beatle-dom just as he always has -- with a wink, a nod and a snarky one-liner.

He gave off the air of a man who, as he puts it, "feels like he's 24."

"Hmmm, lovely," Starr smirked, scanning the assembled crowd of print and television journalists. "I hope this many people turn out for the actual show tomorrow night."

The first of two performances from Starr and His All-Starr Band takes place this evening at the Fallsview's Avalon Ballroom, launching a tour that will conclude in Los Angeles on Aug. 7. It's the 11th time the Beatles drummer has hand-picked a crew of famous musicians to accompany him on a summer road jaunt.

Friday, Starr and his band will return for a second show at the Avalon, where the band has been ensconced for the past week, fine-tuning the set of revered Beatles songs, solo Ringo faves, and assorted hits from All-Starr Band members.

As one-half of the living remainder of the world's most beloved -- and, let's just face it, the world's best -- band, there is zero financial impetus for Starr to haul himself around the country yet again. Clearly, there must be something else at work here.

"I simply love hanging out with musicians and being part of a band situation," Starr said, and shrugged as if merely stating the abundantly obvious. "There is no better feeling in the world than to be in the band, banging it out with musicians you love and respect."

For this 11th All-Starr Band tour, those respected musicians include '70s progressive funk legend Edgar Winter; keyboardist/vocalist Gary Wright ("Dream Weaver," "Love Is Alive"); guitarist/vocalist Rick Derringer ("Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Koo"); bassist/vocalist Richard Page of '80s pop band Mr. Mister ("Broken Wings"); guitarist/vocalist Wally Palmar of the Romantics ("What I Like About You"); and revered session drummer Gregg Bissonette.

This band carries forward the format Starr conceived in the '80s, when he brought the likes of Clarence Clemons, Dr. John, Billy Preston and Levon Helm, among others, together to create what he described on Wednesday as a "1-800 band -- one made up of people who have had hits on their own, play well together, and are willing to let me do my thing in the middle of it all."

Starr's "thing," as it turns out, is to split the difference between co-drumming with Bissonette and manning the front of the stage with a microphone in one hand and a star-shaped tambourine in the other, tackling Beatles beauties like "With A Little Help From My Friends" and "Boys," as well as early solo hits and songs from his well-received recently released album, "Y Not."

The band tore through truncated versions of all of the above Wednesday morning, as Starr introduced the musicians to the media, and each took a turn at the mic singing their biggest hit. As promised, all of this revolved around Starr's bits of Beatlemania and post-Fabs fare. If it all came across a bit too Vegas-like for comfort, Starr's abundant charm, self-deprecating charisma and readily apparent passion for pounding on his trap kit certainly eased the blow.

While his fellow surviving Beatle, Paul McCartney -- "The finest bassist of all time," Starr insisted Wednesday -- has forged a post-Beatles career as a songsmith, record-maker and performer anxious to challenge himself and his audience, Starr has always come across as a man eager to please.

"Whenever we play, the audience loves us, and they know that I love them," Starr deadpanned when queried on what he hopes to take away from these All-Starr Band shows. Doubting his sincerity felt like something that would require more effort than it was worth.

The All-Starr Band was conceived as an oldies act, and nearly a quarter-century later, it remains one. However, the constantly rotating lineup of "All-Starrs" has meant that the jukebox is restocked with a new selection of favorites every two years or so. That's exactly how Starr wants it.

"I just love playing the drums, and I've loved it from the time I was 13 years old. I'm not one of those people who always wanted to learn other instruments. I wanted to be a drummer forever, and as long as I can still hold a pair of drumsticks, I'll keep doing it.

"People ask me about turning 70, and I tell them, 'B.B. King is a lot older than that, and he still plays, although he plays sitting down. Hell, I've been sitting down along!' "

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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CONCERT PREVIEW

Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band Avalon Ballroom, Niagara Fallsview Casino 8:30 tonight, 9 p.m. Friday

Tickets begin at $80 at Ticketmaster

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