When two multi-platinum selling classic rock bands take an outdoor stage to close out the summer, there is a good chance musical magic will fill the air, and Wednesday night was a perfect example of that. Boston and Night Ranger descended on the Ford Amphitheater in Nampa on the 2014 Heaven on Earth Tour. The bands delivered the final outdoor rock event of the summer season, and there was definitely a touch of madness in the air.
Bay Area based Night Ranger were among the hard rock elite in the mid-80s, releasing platinum albums and filling the airwaves with a bevy of classic hits. This summer the band released its brilliant new album, High Road, which finds the band continuing its legacy of crafting hooky and melodic sing-along rockers. As co-founder and guitarist Brad Gillis told The Examiner in an interview last week, the band stacked the deck for this show, dealing out one hit after another beginning with “A Touch of Madness”, “Sing Me Away, and "Four in the Morning (I Can't Take Anymore)”, representing each of the band’s first three records. Those familiar with the band know that bassist/vocalist Jack Blades took a brief hiatus in the 90s to record as part of the supergroup, Damn Yankees, and Night Ranger surprised fans with two hit singles; “Coming of Age” and the ballad, “High Enough”, from that band’s debut album.
For fans yearning for something new that sounds like something vintage, Night Ranger delivered with the title cut from the new record, High Road. Blades and company encouraged the crowd to break out their singing voices to help on the chorus. The band dusted off a deep cut from their debut album with “Eddie’s Coming Out Tonight”, before laying down a tight rendition of their classic, “When You Close Your Eyes”. Next up Gillis broke out one of his most iconic solos from the band’s debut single in 1982, “Don’t Tell Me You Love”. Playing off against Brad was former Alice Cooper guitarist Keri Kelli, who just joined the band in place of the recently departed, Joel Hoekstra. Drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy kicked off the double encore with the help of keyboardist Eric Levy for the monster smash, “Sister Christian”. Closing it out, the band loudly reminded the Treasure Valley crowd: “(You Can Still) Rock in America”.
Night Ranger’s set was too short for my taste, but it was built to thrill the crowd. I would love to have heard another track off the new record and one or two off their amazing Somewhere in California album from 2011. In all, it was a fantastic set by a group of fun loving guys who still live for getting up on that stage. One noticeable flaw: the guitars were too low in the mix for such a riff driven band.
When Boston arrived in 1976, its debut album altered the face of rock and roll. Led by mastermind guitarist, organist, engineer, producer…Tom Scholz, the band created a sound unlike anything before or since, and that eponymous debut album went on to become the best-selling debut of all time (until a little band called Guns n’ Roses came along). While Scholz remains the band’s sole original member, he has surrounded himself with passionate and like-minded musicians who really bring Boston’s music alive.
Boston rightfully kicked off its 90+ minute set with “Rock & Roll Band” and “Smokin’” from that ’76 debut. The fans left their seats, found their feet, and lost their minds. On the latter track, Scholz fired up his organ which billowed smoke on the song’s breakdown. The band only played two tracks off its newest record, Life Love & Hope, including the title track. Oddly, they did not play the album’s single, “Heaven on Earth” from which the tour takes its name. Hit after hit followed, including; “Cool the Engines”, “Feelin’ Satisfied”, “Peace of Mind”, “Amanda”, “Don’t Look Back”, “Something About You”, and of course, “More Than a Feeling”.
Gary Pihl, who has been with the band for nearly 30 years, was masterful on the guitar, while bassist Tracy Ferrie (Stryper) bounced about the stage like a grinning rock and roll minion. Onetime bassist and now rhythm guitarist, Kimberly Dahme took her turn behind the mic for “Surrender to Me” and added depth to the background harmonies on every song.
While no one can hope to replace the unique voice of the late Brad Delp, vocalist Tommy DeCarlo turned in a strong yet understated performance throughout the show, and drummer Curly Smith kept the rhythm driving all night. The always subdued Scholz, was the typical goofy grinned genius who continues to be driven by his love to create. His guitar and organ performances were spot on and he demonstrated both during the title track from the band’s fourth album, Walk On.
The band has been touring with special guest and former American Idol finalist Siobhan Magnus. The young singer lent her voice to “Walk On”, then stuck around to provide back-up vocals for the final few songs, including the show finale, “Foreplay/Longtime”, which electrified a crowd which had grown a bit distracted during the 20 minute interlude of lesser known songs after “More Than a Feeling”. The fans jumped right back into their groove and remained there for the two-song encore of “I Think I Like It” and “Party”. Despite a slow moment or two, the overall set was dynamic and flawless and our hearts and heads were swimming with distant memories of our youth.
Wednesday night marked two outstanding performances by two bands who continue to write and record great new music. At this point in Boston’s storied career Boise may have seen their last local appearance, though we shall keep our fingers crossed for at least one more trip back. You can catch our interviews with Night Ranger here, and Boston here.