American rock outfit Night Ranger are remembered for many reasons; the pitch perfect vocal harmonies on 80’s power ballad ‘Sister Christian’, the call to arms of ‘(You Can Still) Rock In America’, but above all the Californians introduced Brad Gillis into the rock world. Gillis was thrust into the limelight when he had the thankless task of stepping into the shoes of the much-missed Randy Rhoads during Ozzy Osbourne’s worldwide tour in the early eighties, a tour that I had the mixed pleasure of catching. It was always great to see Ozzy in concert, but it was tinged with sadness, knowing that the little maestro was gone. Ozzy tried his best, but it was clear to everyone in attendance that he was hurting. Gillis stood out though. Despite the sad demeanor that engulfed the gig, it was obvious that the young American could play. The tour ended, Gillis went back to Night Ranger, ‘Midnight Madness’ was released, and the rest is history. Thanks to his riffs, Night Ranger had more in their arsenal than so many other melodic rock bands of the time.
Fast forward, and the man still has chops, as perfectly evident on this warts ‘n’ all live album to celebrate 35 years as a band. Ably assisted by ex Alice Cooper guitarist, Keri Kelli, it’s the guitar fireworks that really stand out. If anything, the band actually sound heavier now than they did when they were forever on MTV’s rotation back in the day. ‘Day & Night’ is a brand new track from the upcoming studio album due for 2017. If this track is anything to go by, the album will be rocking. The lush vocal harmonies, synonymous with Night Ranger, are present throughout, but it’s great to hear the guitars ramped up to the max, Gillis and Kelli sound like they are having a blast as they let fly throughout. The success of bona fide power ballads like ‘Sentimental Street’ and ‘Sister Christian’ meant that Night Ranger were often maligned as a lightweight band, but that would be a bad mistake to make. Night Ranger, 2017 style, should piss on that train of thought.
So, for your money, what do you get? You get a glorious romp through 35 years of the band’s history, stretching from way back to the ‘Dawn Patrol’ days with ‘Night Ranger’, ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’, ‘Penny’, ‘Sing Me Away’ and the majestic ‘Eddie’s Comin’ Out Tonight’, all representing the debut album from 1982. The title track from 2014 studio album ‘High Road’ also features, but it’s the period in between when the band found their greatest success, and the same period forms the bulk of the set. ‘When You Close Your Eyes’, ‘Rumours In The Air’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Four In The Morning’ all excel, as does the 80s-tastic ‘Secret Of My Success’, from the Michael J. Fox movie of the same title.
Understandably, the heavy hitters are saved for the encores. Decades later, ‘Sister Christian’ still has the ability to induce involuntary air drumming no thanks in part to singing drummer Kelly Keagy. Damn I miss the 80’s. Night Ranger’s USP is the fact that they have so many outstanding vocalists within the band. As well as Keagy, they have Jack Blades. The bassist handles most of the lead vocals throughout, and still sounds incredible. ‘(You Can Still) Rock In America’ features some nice keyboard fills from Eric Levy that sit alongside Keagy’s pulsating drum beats. It’s cheesy, but sometimes a little cheese is good for you. Again, the guitar work is dazzling.
Take a trip down memory lane and you might be surprised just how many Night Ranger tracks that you are familiar with.
Available now through Frontiers Music. Look out for the new studio album in 2017.
Review: Dave Stott