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In good company ; Ringo Starr at best in the selection of his bandmates

One thing you could always say for Ringo Starr -- he knows how to choose his bandmates. Back in the early 1960s, he signed on as drummer with three guys named John, Paul and George, and they wound up with the most popular and successful rock band of all time.

Thursday night -- just 13 days shy of his 70th birthday -- Ringo kicked off a new tour with his latest All-Starr Band. And once again, the former Beatle finds himself in wonderful company.

They truly rocked the house at the Avalon showroom at the Fallsview Casino, where the show was sold out. Ringo clearly was the star. and while he remains one of rock's great drummers, he knows his limitations as a vocalist. That is why he was willing to step aside many times Thursday night as bandmates, including Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer and Gary Wright strutted their best songs.

The show got off to a rousing start and never lost steam. Just as his glamorous wife, Barbara Bach, was ushered to her seat in the 10th row, Ringo bounded onto the stage, wearing a black suit and high-top sneakers, launching into "It Don't Come Easy," one of the most popular hits from his 39-year solo career.

"Was anyone here when we played here two years ago?" he asked the audience. A few people clapped, and Ringo smiled. "You got nothing better to do, eh?" That was pretty much the way the show went -- great music and good humor, with Ringo setting the tone.

He sang most of his old Beatles hits -- "Boys," "Honey Don't" and "I Wanna Be Your Man" -- but for my money, Ringo seemed even happier when he sat behind the drum kit, backing other musicians, bobbing his head from side to side as he used to with the Beatles. The highlights were many. Derringer displayed his lightning guitar licks on his hit, "Rock and Roll Hoochie-Coo" and had some fun with "Hang on Sloopy."

Wright, an old friend who met Ringo while they were working on George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" in 1970, rang up his spacy "Dream Weaver" and the funky "Love Is Alive." Wayne Palmer of the Romantics delivered a high-energy "What I Like About You" and bassist Richard Page of the '80s band Mr. Mister drew an ovation for his ethereal "Kyrie."

But the man who brought the house down -- twice -- was the flamboyant Winter, who seemingly can play every instrument ever invented. With his white hair flying, he set the place on fire with "Free Ride" and especially, the seven-minute instrumental "Frankenstein," jamming on keyboards, saxophone and drums.

Then it was Ringo again, putting everyone in a good mood with his Beatles classic, "Yellow Submarine," inspiring a sing-along that prompted Bach to flash her husband the peace sign. For a man about to complete his seventh decade on the planet, the slim and bouncy Ringo just never seemed close to running out of energy.

"We're having fun aren't we?" he asked about 90 minutes into Thursday's show. "That's what it's all about."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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WHO: Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band    

WHEN: Thursday evening and 9 tonight    

WHERE: Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls, Ont.    

TICKETS: $80-$136    

INFO: (888) 836-8118, www.fallsviewcasinoresort.com

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