Didn’t the idea of being in a band always sound like fun to you? Having the ability to play an instrument or sing so well that thousands cheered you when you were on stage? How could you not be happy all the time when living your dream? Yet many bands seem to take on a game face when performing, touring being a job, not a dream anymore. Not so with Night Ranger, whose growing up in California must have meant a few visits to the happiest place on earth. This group was all smiles and their theme was fun as they blasted through their unfortunately short, thirty five minute set at the Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion in Phoenix on Sunday night. Despite the heat (although bassist/vocalist Jack Blades should be used to it having grown up in Palm Desert, California and having spent a few years in Scottsdale) it sure looked like Night Ranger was having a great time.
Leading off with “Lay It On Me,” from their new album Somewhere In California, original Night Ranger members Blades, drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy and guitarist Brad Gillis, who are joined on this tour by keyboardist Eric Levy and former Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist Joel Hoekstra, began the funfest in earnest. Night Ranger’s seven song set (tragically short, but rarely is there a huge chunk of time allocated to an opening act, especially when Foreigner and Journey are to follow) featured strong alternating lead vocals of Blades and Keagy, blazing guitar work by both Gillis and Hoekstra and enough smiles, both onstage and in the audience, to pay for an orthodontist’s Porsche.
The crowd was still wandering in as Night Ranger began their show (according to my watch they appeared to begin their set earlier than the announced starting time, my advice to those planning to see them in future shows is to get there early). Because of this, it took until the group’s third song, a cover of Damn Yankees “Coming of Age” (is it a cover if one of your band members co-wrote the song?) before the crowd finally stood up and engaged in singing and head banging. Hoekstra, with his long blonde locks flying, had already started the head banging long before the audience joined in. Blades did his part to keep the excitement going, bouncing around the stage all night long. Apparently he is accustomed to the heat after all.
Those that don’t think they know Night Ranger can have their memory jogged by two words, “Sister Christian.” It was no surprise that this song got the biggest ovation and sing-along of the night. As Levy began the familiar piano introduction, Keagy left his drum set and took center stage to deliver his vocals. Guest drummer Deen Castronovo of Journey filled in for Keagy on drums and the band took off, sounding as if this was 1984 not 2011. Motoring indeed.
The band finished the night with (You Can Still) Rock in America, Gillis and Hoekstra donning American flag guitars while surrounded by Old Glory on both sides. This was a fitting final number, because Night Ranger showed the audience that they can still, at least on this night, rock in Arizona.
With the release of Somewhere in California, which ranks as one of Night Ranger’s best albums and the blow it out performance they gave Sunday night, Night Ranger is as strong as ever. I can’t wait for them to return as a headliner. I need more of their music. I need more of their smiles. I need a touch of madness.
Set list: Lay It On Me | Sing Me Away | Coming of Age | When You Close Your Eyes | Don’t Tell Me You Love Me | Sister Christian | (You Can Still) Rock in America
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