You can still rock in America.
Now—thanks to Rocksino’s swanky $270 million casino-cum-concert hall—you can rock in Northfield, too.
‘80s superstars Night Ranger turned back the clock for an hour and a half Friday night during a post-Christmas bash that had many in attendance reliving their teen years and remembering when they “learned about love in the back of a Chevrolet.”
Still anchored by longtime members Jack Blades (bass, vocals), Brad Gillis (guitar), and Kelly Keagy (drums), the San Francisco five-piece performed all their FM radio hits from the glory days, a handful of solo tunes, and a few surprising covers.
The band broke ice with “Touch of Madness” (from 1983’s Midnight Madness) then cracked open the Night Ranger treasure chest and dusted off an energetic “Seven Wishes” and melancholy Dawn Patrol smash “Sing Me Away,” which spotlighted Keagy on lead vocal. “Coming of Age” was the first of many selections hailing from a Night Ranger side project—in this case Blades’ stint with 1990s super-group Damn Yankees.
Then came a covers triumvirate that dropped a few jaws despite the tunes’ direct ties to the musicians onstage. Filling in for Ranger guitarist Joel Hoekstra—who’s presently on tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra—utility axeman Keri Kelli sparkled on Alice Cooper anthem “School’s Out,” which he’s played countless times while gigging with the ghoulish rocker. Gillis paid homage to fellow Ozzy Osbourne alumnus Randy Rhoads on “Crazy Train,” while Blades served up “High Enough,” the MTV staple he penned in 1990 with Styx’s Tommy Shaw. The bassist gave a shout-out to Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone—an Ohio native—who’s now playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I get overcome with emotion thinking of all the history we have with every single one of you,” said Blades, who was the night’s affable emcee.
Blades recounted an early Night Ranger gig at the Agora during a blizzard circa 1981-82. Stranded in Cleveland, the guys played to a whopping six people—including WMMS’ Kid Leo, who helped break the then-fledgling group.
The twin guitar attack of Gillis and Kelli was prominent throughout the set, even on keyboard-based songs like soundtrack hit “Secret of My Success.” Gillis cranked out riffs for “Eddie’s Coming Out Tonight,” matched his guitar volume swells with Eric Levy’s synth chords on “Rumours in the Air,” and let fly with whammy-bar dives and two-handed tapping on a red Fernandes with black pick guard and hardware. Meanwhile, Kelli shredded on a gold-top Les Paul that bore a Russian appliqué—a souvenir of his tour there with Project Rock mates Rudy Sarzo and Tim “Ripper” Owens.
Keagy’s double-bass kit was situated to the side of the stage, allowing fans to peek at the drummer when he sang lead and backup. He occasionally stepped down from the rostrum to sing front-and-center or shake a tambourine (while Kelli and Gillis strummed acoustics), as on “High Enough” and “Goodbye”—which Blades cited as being the first official Night Ranger song.
The quintet finished strong with “Four in the Morning (Can’t Take It Anymore)” and the one-two punch of “When You Close Your Eyes,” and “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” Then Blades, Gillis, and crew delivered encore uber-ballad “Sister Christian” and patriotic finale “You Can Still Rock in America.”
It was a solid performance that harkened back to the days of cassette tapes, Rubik’s cubes, Ronald Reagan, and hockey haircuts. The band skipped over recent material (from 2011's Somewhere in California, for example) and bypassed 90's and 00's discs like Neverland, but it's safe to say everyone went home happy with the hit parade.
But we’re still not sold on the venue. Joan Jett christened the new Hard Rock resort just before the holidays, but the staff there has yet to reduce unreasonably long lines at the box office and bars. We overheard several concertgoers saying they stepped out of line—sans beverage—after waiting twenty minutes or so shoulder-to-shoulder with other thirsty customers. On entering the venue, we had to snake our way through a lobby congested with people waiting to ante up for a cocktail. Hopefully they’ll resolve the problem for next week, when Detroit punk-poppers The Romantics headline a New Year’s Eve soiree.
The folding chairs in the concert hall are going to last years, since nobody sits in them for very long. The sound and sightlines at the Rocksino are good (no poles or obstructions), but the main floor is un-graded, meaning you’ll have to stand up to see, particularly if the folks in front of you take to their feet, prompting a reverse-domino effect. We were seated in back on Friday night, somewhat elevated in the bleacher-like “risers”—but it didn’t matter. We spent most of the show staring at prodigious back of the guy in front of us.
And he spent most of his time texting.