It can be worth taking a punt on an act you don’t follow too closely. Sometimes it can be a waste of an evening as you realise just why you never got into them in the first place, but on other occasions (as with Richard Marx a few weeks ago) a gig can turn you into a full-on fan. Then there are the ones that fall into the middle of the spectrum: they don’t change your mind, but they’re just damned good fun in their own right. And so it was with Night Ranger, playing their first-ever UK headlining gig (and their first show on UK soil at all since 1985, when they played in support to Foreigner). After 26 years away, they then experienced a seven-hour delay at Heathrow, and barely made it to the venue on time, but in the end their loyal fans got what they’d been missing for such a long time.
Opener Rock and Roll Tonight set the tone for the whole set, being good fun, but utterly generic (yeah, the title’s the giveaway, I know!) and sounding like it was being played by a particularly talented bar band. This has always been my problem with Night Ranger - a paucity of really good songs. Certainly they’ve come up with a few pearls in their time (Sister Christian, The Secret of My Success, Forever All Over Again, Rumours in the Air to name a few), but they’re the exceptions rather than the rule.
Night Ranger’s commercial prime was fairly brief, but they did notch up a pretty significant run of hits within a few years (83-85 basically - had they been on any label other than MCA that run would likely have extended into the rest of the 80s but it was not to be), and there were no serious omissions from that period, which made for a crowd-pleasing set (even if these songs were never hits on this side of the pond).
Bassist/vocalist Jack Blades expressed the opinion that the most important/enjoyable thing for them as a band though was to create and play new music, and so their new release – which seems to have met a rapturous response from their fanbase – Somewhere in California had several tracks aired, of which Lay it On Me and first encore No Time to Lose You stood out, while single Growing Up in California spectacularly failed to do so.
But if the night couldn’t be about the songs the performances (almost) made up for it – this is a band who can play, and do so with verve and delight. I’m always impressed by a singing drummer and Kelly Keagy is one of the best, never missing a beat, even when trying desperately to get his sound issues fixed during Sentimental Street. Blades, meanwhile was full of life, despite having been confined to a drumstool earlier in the week, following an unfortunate onstage mishap (where he ended up doing the splits accidentally...ouch). You’d never have known he’d suffered hamstring strain though, so I assume he’s part-Alzarian...elsewhere his OTT onstage banter could have become irritating, but he managed to keep it just to the right side of endearing instead, and certainly got the intended reaction from the crowd. But it’s the twin/duelling guitars that’s the most appealing part of the NR sound and Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra delivered in spades, Gillis in particular being immensely watchable. These guys know how to put on a show, you’ve got to give them that.
Aside from The Secret of My Success (and the medley of other songs featuring prominent ‘na na na’ parts that followed) and the surprise inclusion (to me at least) of Coming of Age (originally by Blades’ 90s supergroup Damn Yankees) the main set didn’t contain many standout moments, but the show was consistently enjoyable nonetheless, and the 3-song encore that culminated in Sister Christian and You Can Still Rock in America proved a fitting conclusion to the proceedings.
So top marks for performance, energy and atmosphere. Just a pity about the songs. The faithful were well-served though, and truly seemed delighted with the whole deal – can’t say fairer than that. (7/10)
PS – after the show, various things (picks, drumsticks, etc) were thrown into the crowd by the band – one prize that landed in my hands was a screwed-up setlist. If a ‘proper’ (UK-based!) NR fan would like this drop me a line and I’ll get it sent to ya (first come first served, obviously!) somehow or other!