Nobody does heavy AOR quite as well as Californians Night Ranger. Over the course of some of the most memorable heavy rock ever created the band has carved a niche for itself in the realms of immortality, and they have nothing left to prove. So why, oh why put all that on the line by releasing a warts-and-all live document designed surely to merely highlight the frailties in the live environment of a band who’s key members are all now in their sixties?
You might well ask. Clearly the band are comfortable enough in their own skins to expose themselves in such a way, but there are moments here – even when you are a committed Night Ranger fanboy like me – when you wish they didn’t.
Bass playing frontman Jack Blades puts in a consummate performance throughout, and for once on one of these things it’s actually enjoyable listening to the man’s engaging emceeing and easy rapport with the (incredibly enthusiastic, it has to be said) crowd. However his co-lead vocalist and drummer Kelly Keagy doesn’t fare so well, frequently oversinging and straining what’s left of his voice in distressing manner. He mangles the gorgeous ballad Goodbye in a car crash of skewed phrasing and breathless delivery, and though the rest of the band harmonise well with him, it’s the Keagy vocals that disappoint most throughout.
Unsurprisingly the newer material covered – written with more, shall we say ‘mature’ voices in mind – fares best, with Growing Up in California a particular highlight; However things do click occasionally on the classic tracks – When You Close Your Eyes is given a storming going over, whilst guitarists Brad Gillis and Keri Kelly let rip on a devastating take on Eddie’s Coming Out. Gillis in particular gives an MVP performance throughout, offering up some chunky riffage and lazer-sharp soloing on Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.
First encore Penny is good to hear, with Gillis and Kelly riffing like good ‘uns and newish keyboardist Eric Levy adding some nice Hammond accompaniment, but Sister Christian – surely one of the five greatest power ballads ever written – doesn’t fare so well as, you guessed it, Keagy struggles to get through the verses before being bailed out by the rest of the band and the audience on the choruses.
Not as awful as it might have been, then – Night Ranger are just too solidly professional to release a stinker – but, aside from those who were there on the night who might like this as a souvenir, or Night Ranger completists, it’s hard to see this appealing to too many people. Great band – one of the best, in fact – but not such a great idea.
35 Years and a Night in Chicago is released through Frontiers Music on December 2nd.