I am a big fan of Night Ranger; the last time they were here, I was giddy for days and had the lyrics to “When You Close Your Eyes,” in my head even longer.
When the boys hit the stage at the Ovations LIVE! Showroom there was excitement in the air and I was looking forward to hearing a few songs off the band’s latest record (released in June 2011), Somewhere in California and some deeper tracks from the band’s catalog as well. They last time I saw them, a short 30-minute set (the band served as the opener on the Journey/Foreigner Tour 2011) left little time for much more than the hits.
Not to disappoint, the show opened with “Lay It On Me,” from Somewhere in California. It’s widely thought that this record brings back the Night Ranger sound of the 80s—and I agree, but almost with a harder edge. This might be due to the influence of guitar maestro Joel Hoekstra whose guitar licks scream hard-driving, metal-influenced pure rock. I am not a huge fan of long guitar solos and I think there were too many in this show. Hoekstra and Brad Gillis seemed to spur each other on to that end, but Hoekstra adds energy to the band that I think fans enjoy.
The close to my heart, sweet “Sing Me Away,” was next followed by, not one, but two of those deeper tracks I was hoping for. “Touch of Madness” and “Rumours in the Air,” were both off 1983’s Midnight Madness. “Touch” showed off lead singer Jack Blades’ dance moves as he rocked to the tune as he played, and both songs showcased just how good Night Ranger was – and is!
A fun part of the show was when Blades reminded the audience (and schooled some of the younger ones) about the fact that the phenomenally talented guitarist, (and founding member of the band) Brad Gillis once played with Ozzy Osborne. Yep, Gillis served as the tour replacement for Randy Rhoades who died tragically in a plane crash in 1982. Blades asked Gillis to play a few licks from his favorite Ozzy tune, and what do you know…“Crazy Train,” was it. A few licks turned into the whole tune with Blades doing a nice job of lead vocals. This was one of a few show highlights for me.
And speaking of other bands people played in, Blades reminded us of a little group he was once in…anybody remember Damn Yankees? Yes, Uncle Ted (Nugent) and Tommy Shaw joined forces with Jack Blades in the early ‘90s to produce some phenomenal rock music. They made lots of it, and toured almost non-stop for four years before taking a break—one that they are still on—but you never know, a reunion is always a possibility.
The boys did a nice version of the Yankees’ “Coming of Age,” and later on in the set did the mega-hit “High Enough,” which I have to say was not as high as it could have been. I have heard this band do this song before and the harmony has been better. Drummer Kelly Keagy, who has a fantastic voice, was charged with taking on the Tommy Shaw role and just doesn’t seem to have a high enough range. I am guessing that former keyboard player, Christian Matthew Cullen, no longer with the band, might have handled those vocals before, or maybe it was just not Keagy’s night.
Later in the set, Blades announced that FedEx had lost four of the band’s bags, all of which contained most of Keagy’s drums, so he was working off loaners. Several times during the set you could see he was frustrated; working with broken pieces and with drum tech’s on stage fiddling while he is playing and singing no less. Keagy’s voice is the magic behind many, in fact most, of the commercially successful hits from the band, and kudos to him for working through what must have been a super tough challenge.
“Growin’ up in California,” was next. Another cut off the latest album, this song was very reminiscent of the Night Ranger ‘80s sound and I just loved it. With a great underlying rhythm hook and hard-driving drums throughout, this was a good old fashioned great rock song that I suspect will remain a staple on their set list.
The boys broke into a little Doors cover with “Road House Blues,” that was unexpected and very cool, before playing a song I’d completely forgotten they wrote, the title track to the Michael J. Fox movie, “Secret of My Success.”
One of my favorites, the just-enough-cheese-to-be-a-great-‘80s-classic, “Sentimental Street,” got the crowd really involved. And on this one, Keagy’s harmonies with Blades were spot on. What a great song, another set highlight!
Before the next tune, Blades held up his bass guitar, a reddish-orange beauty he announced was made right here in Phoenix by Atomic Guitar Works. He said it reminded him of the Arizona red rocks. Blades lived in Scottsdale growing up, and seems fond of his old home.
Another deep track was next. “Eddie’s Comin’ Out Tonight,” is a song off their first album that I was not familiar with. Blades said it was about a guy that used to frequent a club they played in the early days. It was an O.K. song, but the energy was off on this one, and may not be well-placed in the set given that “Sentimental Street,” carried so much energy with it. I think “High Enough,” to follow would have been a better choice.
Another great rock song we don’t get to hear in those shorter-set shows was “”Four in the Morning (I Can’t Take Anymore),” from 1985’s Seven Wishes album. This song brought back the energy and led nicely into the tail end of the set that was packed with crowd-pleasing mega-hits.
“When You Close Your Eyes,” finally got every person out of their seats dancing and singing along. Keeping the momentum going with “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” the crowd was rocking as hard as the boys on the stage.
After a very short encore break the band returned to put the cherry on top of this rock-n-roll sundae with the super-mega-monster-all-time-hit, “Sister Christian,” a song that still “has it.” The crowd sang along to this song almost louder than the band. “Christian,” was followed by the apropos, “Rock In America,” since that what this band does best. Now this is the way to end a rock concert!
Overall, this was another great Night Ranger show, with a few tiny stumbling blocks—and while I could do without a long, fast guitar solo in almost every song, I think the crowd seemed to dig it. And after all, when you have two phenomenal hard rock guitarists in the band, it is hard to keep them from doing what they do best.
Super glad the Night Ranger boys are still choosing to rock in America—because it makes life so much sweeter!