Night Ranger motorin’ onto Sweetwater stage
’80s rockers play hits, but continue to write new songs
As they celebrate their 40th anniversary, Night Ranger is most popular for their early work, but the band continues to make new music and tours constantly.
Their current tour includes an appearance at Sweetwater Performance Pavilion on Wednesday, Aug. 10.
One of the most popular mainstream rock bands of the mid-1980s, their 1982 debut album, Dawn Patrol, hit No. 38 on the U.S. charts and sold more than a million copies, powered by the rocker “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.”
A year later, their follow-up album, Midnight Madness, sold more than 2 million copies and established the band as a commercial force when the anthem “(You Can Still) Rock in America” became an MTV staple, while the ballad “Sister Christian” took over radio airwaves and high school dances for months, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard singles chart.
In 1985, 7 Wishes continued the momentum, selling more than 3 million copies, while the band branched out, finding success on movie soundtracks including Teachers, Sixteen Candles, and The Secret of My Success.
Night Ranger has continued making music throughout four decades, with the exception of a short hiatus in the late ’90s, and released their 13th studio album, ATBPO, acronym for “And The Band Played On,” last year to rave reviews from fans and critics alike.
For those not keeping up with Night Ranger, the core of the band, Jack Blades, Kelly Keagy, and Brad Gillis remain the driving force, while Eric Levy got behind the keyboards in 2010 and Keri Kelli took on second guitar duties in 2014.
New way of creating
ATBPO was recorded during the pandemic, so like most bands that stayed active during that time, Night Ranger had to adapt.
Written remotely, band members traded ideas electronically, a new concept for some veteran musicians, but one that they figured out through trial and error.
“It took a while for us to get going,” drummer/vocalist Keagy told Heavy HQ, but once they started to get the idea of sending clips, recording on a phone, and putting songs together in a disjointed way, it started to become easier.
“But I hope I never have to do it again, because it ruins the whole idea of being in a room together and communicating where somebody says, ‘Try this chord,’ ‘This could be a bridge,’ or ‘This could be the chorus’ and ‘change that chord.’ We couldn’t do that. It just took a ridiculously long time, but we got it done.”
The album turned out to be everything you’d expect from Night Ranger, and more, with the majority of it falling into the guitar-driven rock category.
Many reviews likened some of the songs to “Sing Me Away” by Dawn Patrol or “Passion Play” by Midnight Madness, with several containing those big hooks for which Night Ranger is known, as well as sing-along choruses that make them instantly memorable.
Of course, there are a couple of ballads thrown in for good measure, such as “Can’t Afford a Hero” and “The Hardest Road,” extending the band’s reputation for finding just the right balance for listeners who like variety.
Giving crowds what they want
In a live setting, the legendary band has continued to deliver high-octane energy that has thrilled stadiums with their distinct blend of killer melodies, intricate instrumentation, as well as captivating lyrics.
The setlist changes very little from year to year, since they stick to the hits that everyone knows, predominately from the first three albums, while usually adding a song or two from Damn Yankees, the “supergroup” that Blades was a part of in the late ’80s and early ’90s, along with Tommy Shaw of Styx and Ted Nugent.
They usually don’t forget that Gillis once played with Ozzy Osbourne, and will throw in a song from Osbourne’s early solo catalogue before playing something everyone knows from one of the many bands in which Kelli was in over the years, before devoting the bulk of his time to Night Ranger.
Yes, Night Ranger knows what the audience pays to hear and have no problem in delivering it, but they say that new music is what inspires them, whether those songs ever get played live or not.
It’s out of necessity that they continue to write new material, Keagy explained, and it keeps the band energized.
“We love creating new stuff, and we use it as inspiration to keep going to the next year and the next five years and the next 10 years, because that’s the reason why we’re here, we want to inspire ourselves,” he said.
“At the same time, if those hardcore fans are still interested in hearing music, and they are, we’ll keep making it forever,” he added.
“Jack uses this analogy: ‘It’s like a shark that, if it stops eating and stops moving forward, it’ll die.’ We have to keep moving forward for us, first of all, and then for fans that want to hear our music. We’re very lucky in still having that inspiration to go by.”