Night Ranger (photo: Carla Bova)
The Bay Area rock and roll band opened with “Somehow Someway,” the latest single off its 11th studio album Don’t Let Up, released in March 2017.
Featuring this up-tempo tune with its big guitar licks at the top of the concert highlighted the fact that Night Ranger continues to make new music and to capture the signature sound fans have loved for decades.
While the band played one more new track from Don’t Let Up called “Truth,” the rest of the 20-song set list was stacked prominently with classic hits, deep-cut gems, and covers from members’ separate projects.
The show was part of Night Ranger’s 35th anniversary world tour with the group rightfully showcasing its big ’80s success, embracing its storied history, and touting its local roots.
“We’re back home here. This is home,” said bassist and singer Jack Blades in his greeting to the crowd. “We put the band together right there in Mill Valley, California.”
Night Ranger’s sing-along anthems and guitar-heavy, yet melodic, hard rock rose to popularity in the 1980s. It had 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and a string of best-selling albums: Dawn Patrol (1982), Midnight Madness (1983), 7 Wishes (1985), Big Life (1987), Man In Motion (1988). Three of these early albums were certified platinum and/or gold. The group’s combined catalog to date has sold about 17 million albums worldwide.
Night Ranger bassist and singer Jack Blades
After the opener, Blades sang “Rumors In the Air” and “Seven Wishes,” then drummer Kelly Keagy belted “Sing Me Away.” Blades and Keagy have traditionally shared lead vocals and the two traded the role throughout the night.
For select songs, Keagy emerged from behind his drum kit, set up stage left, to sing the first few lines from center stage. He would then swiftly return to his drums, where he picked up percussion and sang to the finish.
Keagy appeared strong, healthy, and energetic while killing the drums for the near two-hour set. Just about one year ago, he had a successful procedure to address a heart abnormality and took two months off through May 2017 to recover. The gap marked the first time in its history that the band was on the road without Keagy.
“Here’s another one from the 7 Wishes album. For everyone who has lost somebody,” said Keagy, before singing “Goodbye.”
Keagy also sang the ballad “Sentimental Street,” which reached #8 in 1985, and the band’s biggest hit “Sister Christian,” which reached #5 in 1984. He wrote the iconic anthem about his younger sister Christine in his San Francisco apartment circa 1982. Its music video was shot at San Rafael High School in Marin County at the height of MTV craze.
Night Ranger drummer and singer Kelly Keagy
Founding members Blades, Keagy, and lead/rhythm guitarist Brad Gillis met in 1977 when they played together in Rubicon. After it disbanded in 1979, they formed a trio called Stereo. They added keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald and guitarist Jeff Watson to the lineup, and took the name Ranger in 1980. Two years later, following a claim of trademark infringement by country band the Rangers, the group changed its name to Night Ranger.
“When we put the band together, we were just five kids from the Bay Area,” Blades said. “That was 40 years ago last week. Where the hell did 40 years go?”
By early 1982, Night Ranger signed with Boardwalk Records and released its first album Dawn Patrol. The group put out four more records, toured internationally, then broke up in 1989.
Members pursued other music projects. Blades formed the supergroup Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw of Styx, releasing two multi-platinum albums. Blades also wrote songs for Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey, and Ozzy Osbourne. Keagy and Gillis reformed with two new artists and released the album Feeding Off the Mojo in 1995.
Night Ranger lead/rhythm guitarist Brad Gillis
The five original Night Ranger bandmates reunited in 1996 and recorded two albums on CMC Records (Neverland in 1997 and Seven in 1998), which became popular in Japan.
Blades, Keagy, and Gillis remained constant thereafter, but other artists came and went over the years. Eric Levy has played keyboards since 2011. Keri Kelli initially was a substitute on lead/rhythm guitars but has been with the band full-time since 2014. This team of accomplished musicians are masters of their respective instruments who perform with the ease of pros, the heart of rockers, and the visible joy of friends doing what they love.
“You guys know he played with Slash, Alice Cooper,” Blades said of Kelli, before blaring a cover of Cooper’s “School’s Out.” Additional covers of the night included “Crazy Train” by Osbourne and “Coming of Age” and “High Enough,” both by Damn Yankees.
Throughout the April 6 show, the band played several more hit singles and nostalgic tunes from early albums such as “Four in the Morning,” “The Secret of My Success,” and “Night Ranger.”
The group also delved way into its archives for “Passion Play.” “We’re gonna pull out a real deep track for you. I’m not sure we have played this one since the Cow Palace in 1984. It’s off the Midnight Madness album,” Blades said of the song. “That’s going deep. That’s going real, real deep.”
To the delight of the audience, the band dove further still. “There’s so many more songs to play. Let’s play the very first song we ever wrote as a band. We wrote it in Petaluma, 1980, 38 years ago,” Blades said, when introducing “Let Him Run.”
Night Ranger built to the show’s finish with Blades and Keagy singing powerful dual vocals for “When You Close Your Eyes,” followed by fan favorite and very first single “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” The finale was a rollicking and fitting “(You Can Still) Rock In America.”
“It’s 2018 and you can still rock in America,” Blades said.
We can thank Night Ranger for that.