Once something of a holy grail for UK rock fans, Night Ranger visits are now regular on these shores – well London anyway. This was their third trip since 2011 but the band’s stock is high at the moment, last year’s ‘High Road’ album featuring heavily on end of year best ofs and the band even accorded a ‘buyers guide’ in a recent “Classic Rock” magazine.
The Academy was jam packed despite many of the London gig scene regulars being elsewhere on their way to Hard Rock Hell or across town at another legendary US cult band, Starz, who were inconveniently playing the same evening. This was a tough choice for me but, knowing the incredible energy and joie de vivre of a Night Ranger show, they won the day.
There was the rather unsatisfactory situation of no support band and NR hitting the stage 20 minutes later than the advertised time, and by their own highest standards the opening pair of ‘Touch of Madness’ and ‘Seven Wishes’ seemed a touch lacklustre, with a rather rough sound which fortunately sharpened up as the gig went on.
For me things came to life with ‘Growing Up in California’, a relatively recent song that can now be considered a classic and sums up their sunny carefree approach to life, then the vintage ‘Sing Me Away’ saw drummer Kelly Keagy sing for the first time and some classic twin lead guitaring.
Brad Gillis, as ever, was regularly pulling back his whammy bar and reeling off one shredding solo after another, complete with classic poses, in a manner which suggests he is an unfairly overlooked guitar god.
With Joel Hoesktra departed for Whitesnake, the street urchin-like figure of much travelled Kerri Kelli completed a new guitar team. Personally I thought his playing style was not as fluent as Joel or original axeman Jeff Watson but the band seem happy with the new recruit and he did give them a sharper, more ragged edge.
Perhaps his arrival has also helped NR to rediscover their roots. There were gasps of amazement when they played ‘Can’t Find Me A Thrill’ for the first time in eons and, later in the set, the eponymous Night Ranger and perennial favourite ‘Eddie’s Coming Out Tonight’, with heavy guitar jams with both guitarists shredding alternate bars, was a reminder that, before hitting hit single paydirt with their ballads, that Night Ranger were an altogether rockier proposition.
More than one friend of mine seeing them for the first time expressed their surprise how heavy they were. The band were always about choruses though and ‘Four In The Morning’ was melodic rock bliss.
This was a real set for the fan – they told much longer stories and anecdotes about the band’s history and the set list was partly improvised. They even covered ‘Schools Out’ in honour of Keri’s time with Alice Cooper, in symmetry with their usual routine of Brad playing ‘Crazy Train’ in recognition of his time with Ozzy Osbourne.
Likewise a pair of songs from Damn Yankees, ‘Coming of Age’ and mega ballad ‘High Enough’ with some great vocal harmonies from all five of the band, were among the best received of the night, not least as it seems a Yankees reunion may never happen.
There was the usual constant wisecracking from Jack Blades, not to mention revealing a surprise love for Gavin and Stacey, and he reduced his comic foil Brad to red faced laughter, notably when quoting Ted Nugent he said ‘f*ck the keyboard player’ when Eric Levy had some technical issues, which sadly broke up the classic semi-ballad ‘Sentimental Street’.
They only played three songs from High Road and while ‘St Bartholomew’ sounded very average, the other two justified their billing at a point in the set where people were probably expecting them to coast into the oldies.
The title track is made for singalongs and deserves a permanent place in the set and ‘Don’t Live Here Anymore’ built from a typical Kelly ballad, through a Hammond organ then guitar solos to take on the feel of a seventies epic.
I kept expecting us to be in the home straight of the ‘hits’ but the surprises kept on coming, none more so than a stripped back cover of ‘The Boys of Summer’, Brad showing another subtle side with his sensitive acoustic guitar playing and Kelly’s singing having a classic eighties feel, before he came out front to sing the intro to ‘Goodbye’, one of the ballads they specialise in with power chords crashing in melodramatic fashion.
The party – at least for those who didn’t have to leave and catch trains – was now in full swing as we finally got to the expected conclusion – ‘When You Close Your Eyes’ with Jack and Kelly trading vocals including the classic line ‘I remember when we learned about love – in the back of a Chevrolet’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’ with its usual climax of a twin guitar duel.
Belatedly the band realised there was a curfew and skipped the charade of going off and on for an encore to press on, with ‘Sister Christian’ the classic ballad that was to define their career but a much tougher proposition live, with Kelly again out front, and ‘You Can Still Rock’ in America, with more guitar jamming, epitomising their approach, and taking the set near the 2 ¼ hour mark.
They genuinely seem to love playing England and were promising to come back for a UK wide tour – that is not to be missed at all costs but it would be hard to top this very special night when they went above and beyond for the fans!
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
Jason Ritchie writes
Second time seeing these US melodic hard rock legends who now have visited the UK three times now since 2011, as opposed to once in the previous thirty odd years! They have a new guitarist in Keri Kelli, formerly in Alice Cooper’s band, who replaced Joel Hoekstra as he left for Whitesnake. The core trio of Jack Blades (vocals/bass), Brad Gillis (guitars) and Kelly Keagy (vocals/drums) are still present with Eric Levy on keyboards completing the line-up.
They didn’t take to the stage until after nine and with no support shame they didn’t come on early, although there were various meet n greets taking place, which seemed popular judging by the number of the audience sporting various types of meet ‘n’ greet passes.
Great rocking start to the set with ‘Touch Of Madness’ and ‘Seven Wishes’, although the sound gremlins were popping up now and then. An excellent run through ‘Growin’ Up In California’, a great showcase for the two guitarists.
Jack Blades clearly loves every minute of the show, whilst new boy Keri Kelli is full of energy and fits seamlessly into the band. Fans had a treat with some rarely played songs like ‘Night Ranger’, with their latest album ‘High Road’ getting an airing via the title track and ‘St. Bartholomew’.
The band have a little breather when Kelly Keagy sings ‘Sentimental Street’, before the band all join in partway through the song. He does a sterling job singing and drumming sideways to the audience proof that men can multi-task…
Night Ranger also give a rare chance to hear Damn Yankees tunes played live and we had ‘Little Sister’ midway through the set and ‘High Enough’ towards the end of the set,the latter utilising the band’s amazing harmony vocals.
They also did Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ as a nod to Keri Kelli’s previous employer and Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’ as Brad Gillis was a member of Ozzy’s band following the death of Randy Rhoads. Great fun although being a little selfish would have been nice to have some more Night Ranger tunes.
Due to catching trains I had to leave at 10:30pm although the band played up to and just over the 11pm curfew. Do go and see this band live, they are a masterclass in putting on an enjoyable live show and the enthusiasm of the band onstage transfers into the audience.
They have promised to keep adding more UK dates each year they come over, part of their ‘five year plan’ that they joked about onstage. The band are quite possibly better now than they have ever been and that’s no mean feat given the high musical standards they have maintained since they started back in 1980.
Review by Jason Ritchie
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