CONCERT REVIEW: Night Ranger rocks the night with signature sound, audience interaction

Eighties rock is still alive and well as evidenced by the performance of one of the decade’s most beloved bands. Night Ranger owned the show Tuesday at the State Theatre as hard-core fans and newcomers joined together for an interactive evening of conversation, humor and hard driving rock and roll.

The evening began with an impressive opening by Erin Condo. The Maryland native entertained the audience with her voice and acoustic guitar, playing in the genres of Americana and country-folk.

There was a rather long intermission between shows, but the minute Night Ranger took the stage, it was evident that the long wait was well worth it. The Northern California band immediately started rocking.

What impressed me, besides the band’s outstanding musicianship, is how interactive the shows was. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Blades and drummer and lead vocalist Kelly Keagy were especially chatty, getting up close and personal and engaging the audience in a conversation. These guys love and appreciate their fans, and they clearly enjoy talking, joking and laughing with them. The audience was receptive to it and the entire show was like one big party, a theme that this band seems to go for.

The band played their usual set of hit songs, including “Sing Me Away,” “Four in the Morning (I Can’t Take Anymore),” “When You Close Your Eyes” and “Sentimental Street,” which was followed by an interesting story from Blades of how the song came to be written. Driving on the way to the airport on the streets of San Francisco, many of which are named avenues, Blades wanted to write a sentimental song, hence the inspiration for “sentimental street in the avenues.”

A couple of surprises were just icing on the cake for this lively, energetic show. Lead guitarist Brad Gillis had toured with Ozzy Osbourne in the early 1980s, when Night Ranger was beginning to break out on their own. It was the perfect time for an Osbourne song, as the band did their own version of his 1980 hit “Crazy Train.” Later on in the show, Blades talked about his time in the band Damn Yankees, with Styx’s Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent. Night Ranger then performed a couple of songs from their repertoire, including the 1990 smash hit “High Enough.”

Another highlight of the evening was the number of songs the band chose to do acoustically. This particular set featured a cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” It was only fitting that the last song done acoustically would be the 1985 hit “Goodbye,” which featured Keagy on lead vocals. Written by Blades in memory of his brother, who died years ago of a drug overdose, the song starts out in a country-folk flavored style then transitions into the band’s trademark electric guitar-driven sound.

Of course like any other band, Night Ranger had to do an encore. And what better song to do it with than “Sister Christian,” the band’s biggest hit single and perhaps their signature song. “You Can Still Rock in America” closed out the night as the group thanked the fans for all their support and for rocking along with them for all these years.

Overall, I was impressed with Night Ranger as a live band. After 30 plus years in the business, these guys can still rock with the best of them. Based on audience reaction, it was plain to see that this band still strikes a chord with the generation that grew up with their music in the 1980s. But at the same time, a whole new generation is becoming familiar with Night Ranger’s classic hits, as there were many younger people in attendance.

The performance by Night Ranger ranks as one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. The State Theatre is an outstanding venue for the arts, whether it be concerts, plays or musicals, and was the perfect setting for Night Ranger’s interactive and intimate shows. It’s clear this band absolutely loves what they do and on this night, they proved once again that they can “still rock in America!”