Journey with Night Ranger
Kansas Star Casino
August 24, 2013
By Jeb Wright
The Kansas Star Casino played host to Journey and Night Ranger, celebrating their first sold out concert in the venue’s brief history, ushering in what is hopefully the first of many classic rock concerts to come!
Night Ranger opened the show and brought their A game, despite having to avert disaster a couple of times during their set. Their show consisted of a mix of a new tune to go along with classic Night Ranger songs and a couple of gems from bassist/vocalist Jack Blades other band, the Damn Yankees.
Before the show, Brad Gillis took time to shoot the breeze and introduce me to the rest of the band. Brad and Classic Rock Revisited go way back, as he was one of the first artists we interviewed when we started in 1999!
Unfortunately, during our chat, I saw a logo for NFL bad boys the Oakland Raiders on his iconic red guitar, prompting a discussion of whether we could ever be friends, as I bleed Kansas City Chiefs red! At the end of the day, we discovered we could lay our football preferences aside and bond over our love of guitar solos! Guitarist Joel Hoekstra jokingly made sure I had only given the band good reviews over the years before welcoming me into the fold. I told him other than the fact that he was carrying Gillis, all was well.
Of course, that was a joke, as both Brad and Joel proved with their performance that evening just how damn good they are at what they do! These two axe-masters slammed it home and took no prisoners from the very start, as “Lay It on Me” from the latest night Ranger album Somewhere in California, released in 2011 proved.
During a guitar solo, Gillis broke a guitar string, yet never missed a note. He transposed the solo to the other strings in his mind and the crowd didn’t even realize that he was sans a string. The band also had to think fast on their feel at the climax of their classic hit “Sister Christian” as drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy accidently knocked his microphone stand to the ground at the exact moment the song goes from rocker to ballad. Night Ranger kept motoring (get it…’motoring’..like they say in the song) and stretched the segued part out a few bars until the stagehands could reset the microphone.
Whether it was the Damn Yankee’s “Coming of Age” or Night Ranger classics “Sing Me Away” and show closer “You Can Still Rock in America” the band kicked it hard and heavy. These guys had a 12-hour drive from Wisconsin to Kansas that day and still played with fire, energy and passion. Jack Blades sounded good and totally slammed out his bass parts, holding the rhythm down tight with Keagy while Gillis and Hoekstra trotted out their tasty licks, riffs and solos. Night Ranger is a cool band who, like Journey, have the slow songs for the chicks and the hot rocking guitar songs for the dudes. It’s a winning formula from start to finish.
Before moving on, we should mention Night Ranger keyboardist Eric Levy, as he had no technical problems and played every note with total importance. But, then again, he’s just the keyboard player so, well…ya know…All kidding aside, Levy is a top notch player who fits in well with vibe of the band, whether it be their smiling-faced, laid back California vibe off stage, or their balls-to-the-wall performance they gave once the lights went down. Night Ranger is still living up to their reputation as a killer live band, not allowing time, circumstance, or the occasional broken string, or knocked over microphone stand, to slow them down.
Next up were rock and roll stalwarts Journey. Led by guitarist and founding member Neal Schon the band were ready to rock from the moment they stepped onto the stage. Before the show, Classic Rock Revisited was invited backstage to say hello to Schon. We chatted with his fiancé, the gorgeous Michaele Salahi and Neal about his previous evening’s induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Neal also took time to give me a rundown of a beautiful Paul Reed Smith electric guitar he was using to warm up with in his dressing room, and then posed for a picture before we had to leave so he could get ready for the show.
And what a show it was! Journey opened with the classic tune “Separate Ways” from their 1983 album Frontiers. From the opening guitar riff the crowd were on their feet, where they stayed the entire evening. Frontiers was represented well as aside from that iconic tune, Journey also performed fan favorite “Faithfully” and “Chain Reaction” from the album. “Only the Young” was also a huge hit on this night. The song, originally recorded for release on Frontiers, was pulled at the last minute and eventually found success as a song from the soundtrack to the movie Vision Quest.
The bands most famous album, Escape, was also well represented on this night with “Open Arms,” “Escape,” “Stone in Love” and “Don’t Stop Believing” all being performed. “Don’t Stop” was, predictably, a song that had the entire arena going nuts. This is an example of a song growing stronger with age. It is more popular now then when it was released!
The Kansas Journey Faithful have been following the band for decades, so it was no surprise the most beloved songs, according to the crowd, were the older ‘70s era Journey songs. During “Lights” the crowd was singing as loud as vocalist Arnel Pineda. When Neal Schon ripped into the solo it was like a lightening bolt was sent from the stage splitting the sky. “Wheel in the Sky,” like “Lights” from 1978’s Infinity, was also well received. Schon performed a very cool guitar intro that was ethereal in nature and built the mood up to the opening D minor run that begins the tune. 1979’s Evolution and 1980’s Departure were both represented with one song each. “Any Way You Want It” was trotted out early while "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'” was the encore, leaving everyone singing the ‘nah- nah’s’ to their hearts content.
Before ending this review, we must talk about lead vocalist Arnel Pineda. Replacing Steve Perry was not easy. It took the band a few swings, but they finally hit one over the fence. Arnel is a spitfire onstage with vocal chops that are astonishing. His ability to fill some huge shoes and become such a fan favorite really shows how much talent and charisma he has. Given the impossible odds he overcame and the impossible likelihood that anyone from Journey would have ever seen him sing on YouTube, his story is truly inspirational. While he is obviously lucky to be in Journey, they are also lucky to have him! It goes without saying that the rest of the band are all top notch musicians who are also some of the genre's most beloved songwriters. As usual, Journey were great in concert on this night.
Both Journey and Night Ranger have forged a place in rock and roll history and both put on a great show that doesn’t need a bunch of flashy special effects or dancing about to keep people’s attention. Instead, they let the music do the talking, which is just the way it should be.