Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Foreigner's Journey Into The Night

Last nite got to see the all killer no filler triple bill of Night Ranger, Foreigner and Journey at the Sleep Train Pavilion. It had been raining hard and often over the past few days, but last night there was no rain. The show had a start time of 7pm, the pavilion was still sparsely populated when Night Ranger promptly took the stage.

Night Ranger set list:
Lay It On Me / Sing Me Away / High Enough / When You Close Your Eyes / Don't Tell Me You Love Me / Sister Christian / (You Can Still) Rock In America

Night Ranger opened with a heavy rock track from their recent Somewhere In Californa disc "Lay It On Me" which was a brilliant choice considering the crowd's hit heavy mood. Throw the new song on at the start before the audience has time to realize they don't recognize it! As bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, guitarist Brad Gillis and more recent addition guitarist Joel Hoekstra scampered, spun and tandem posed for the fans it became clear Night Ranger still worked a high energy attack. At least for guys their age.

Jack Blades made clear the Bay Area roots of the band while mentioning the last time they played this venue was in 1987 when they headlined with opening act Tesla (funny enough that was the last time I saw Night Ranger). This led to an enjoyable run through their early pop rocker "Sing Me Away". Then Blades said he was on the phone with Tommy Shaw the other day and Shaw insisted Night Ranger play Damn Yankee's power ballad smash "High Enough". Although I liked Gillis' guitar solo (it was great and nothing like Ted Nugent's original) the fact is that the song needs a high pitched singer like Shaw to pull it off. And it seemed kinda lame to include "High Enough" when Night Ranger had all those hits from the 7 Wishes record that wasn't played at all (including the Top 10 "Sentimental Street"). But they played it. Oh well...

Blades reminisced more about when Night Ranger played Day On The Green supporting Journey in '83 before bouncing into "When You Close Your Eyes".

It was time to rock again as Night Ranger barn stormed through their classic "Don't Tell Me You Love Me". Guitarist Joel Hoekstra started to wow me at this point with his blazing playing and easy camaraderie with Gillis. Blades told everyone they would be singing along a lot this evening and worked a little bit of The Eagles' "Hotel California" in the middle of "Don't tell Me You Love Me". Drummer Kelly Keagy got to walk out from behind his kit for a little - singing lead on that other power ballad classic "Sister Christian". That definitely got the sing along crowd, um, motorin, so the band broke out the red, white and blue guitars for "(You Can Still) Rock In America". Couldn't have been happier hearing Night Ranger dish out their best jams in rapid succession.

True to their rep, Night Ranger delivered a great set. Yet their opening act status meant no encore. Bummer.

After the normal stage reset for the next band on the bill, Foreigner jumped on stage. A lot of the audience had arrived by now and were ready to rock.

Foreigner set list:
Double Vision / Head Games / Cold As Ice / Waiting For A Girl Like You / Dirty White Boy / Feels Like The First Time / Urgent / I Want To Know What Love Is / Hot Blooded
encore: Juke Box Hero

I had read online that band leader and only remaining original member Mick Jones had not been touring due to his health. This meant a serious shortage of star power for Foreigner as both Night Ranger and Journey boasts three originals (defining original as being from the 80s lineups of these bands not necessarily founding members) to Foreigner's none. Zero. Zilch. Not even an original bass player (though ex-Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson is always great). The responsibility for driving this whole thing rested squarely on vocalist Kelly Hansen's shoulders.

Now lucky for me I saw Foreigner last year, so this time around I was prepared for Hansen's Steven Tyler stage presence and adapted to it easier. And I have to say Hansen pulled it off, leading the band with energy and powerful vocals. Even when Hansen's mic cut out during "Dirty White Boy" he handled it like a pro, going to the side of the stage to trade out mics and then picking up where he left off in the verse. Equally impressive, on one of the fast songs (don't remember which) Hansen sang a verse section while running a lap around the inner seating section without getting winded.

Foreigner also had the best staged show out of the three. Their usage of the background video screen was impressive with flashing lights and dynamic use of colors (except of "Juke Box Hero" where they decided to employ computer graphics from 1993 to show people with stars in their eyes). The dizzying box images on "Head Games" or the flames for "Hot Blooded" really got me. And for "I Want To Know What Love Is" the group brought out a local choir to handle the background vocals.

It was because of these factors that Foreigner got over the most with the audience. By the end of the set it was nearly a packed house (save the row in front of us, more on that in a minute) who were all kinds of Foreigner crazy. For me, the lack of original members of any kind was noticeable (I've seen Foreigner in '85, '99 and 2010) so while the performance was good it was hard to shake that tribute band feeling (maybe if they played something off Can't Slow Down it might have felt less that way). But I didn't feel like anyone else noticed, or maybe just didn't care. Thought it was funny some in the audience were bemoaning the lack of Steve Perry with Journey but nobody missed Lou Gramm. Why no love for Lou?

Another stage redress and Journey were on their way!

Journey set list:
Separate Ways / Ask The Lonely / Send Her My Love / City Of Hope - Only The Young / Faithfully / Guitar Solo / Stone In Love / Escape / Lights / Wheel In The Sky / Keyboard Solo / Open Arms / La Do Da / Be Good To Yourself / Lovin' Touchin Squeezin
encore: Any Way You Want It / Don't Stop Believin'

"Separate Ways" always makes a good set opener as Journey split the cool night air with that familiar synth intro. Guitarist Neal Schon literally kicked things off with a kick to the sky. Singer Arnel Pineda hit the stage and was still in good voice (although some of his high notes were boosted with an echo effect). They kept things rolling with an excellent take on "Ask The Lonely" as bassist Ross Valory mugged for the camera.

A nice set list surprise with the quiet ballad "Send Her My Love", it's been so long since I've heard it live I didn't recognize it at first. Pineda dug into the haunted sentiments and displayed an open sensitivity not seen since the Perry days. It was the musical high point of the evening for me.

Keyboardist Jon Cain addressed the crowd and did the usual "Are you ready to rock?!" stage patter garnering a strong audience response until he asked if we were ready to hear some new music. Think I heard some crickets chirping after Cain asked that question. "City Of Hope" was introduced as being about Manila in the Philippines, it's a pretty good song. Too bad the audience wouldn't even do the "tolerate the one new song" courtesy most bands get, they were stone dead silent throughout save for a guy two seats down from me booing. It was like watching a band perform in a vacuum. Journey must be getting this reaction a lot because "City Of Hope" cuts into "Only The Young" without a break in between.

Pineda got the lead vocal nod on "Faithfully" which was nice, I was expecting the mic to pass to drummer Deen Castronovo (who sounds more like Steve Perry than anybody) at this point. In fact Castronovo got no lead vocals this show, the first time I can remember that happening since...Arrival tour? It was good to see the vocals center on one guy again.

Neal Schon's guitar solo I can't recall exactly where it was in the set so I'm guessing it was here. It was as spectacular as always. "Stone In Love" amped up the fans, Castronovo's ability to beat the hell out of his drums really came across here. Also Arnel Pineda's familiarity with the material from touring is paying off as he came across earnestly during the all important "I've got dreams I'm livin' for" segment of "Escape".

"Lights" got the audience swooning in a waving sea of cell phones and bic lighters (I guess the stoners were good for something after all) before they crushed "Wheel In The Sky". Schon freshened up that charged guitar riff he kicks into towards the end and Cain showed off some likeably sloppy harmonica adding a bluesy charm.

Jon Cain then handed in a marvelous piano solo, probably the most extravagantly classical keys solo I've heard since Rick Wakeman. Predictably this led into "Open Arms".

Journey then blew my mind by pulling out one of my all time favorite songs of theirs that I've never heard from them live, "La Do Freakin Da". Well, really "La Do Da". This is late 70s rock at it's face melting best. Then it was back to the "dirty dozen" with "Be Good To Yourself" which was memorable because someone distracted Arnel Pineda to the point he missed the start of the second verse. I think he was laughing at someone in the front rows. Though it was technically a goof, the humor added to the positive messaging of the song.

"Lovin Touchin Squeezin" closed out the main set, a song I recently found out was inspired by a Sam Cooke song (thank you wikipedia). Just a bit of trivia I never knew. Na na na na boo boo, stick your head in doo doo.

I make it a point to leave before the final encore to beat the traffic. There was some opening guitar parts that sounded like the start to "Lay It Down" before they snapped into "Any Way You Want It". I heard that and "Don't Stop Believin" on the way to the parking lot. From the crowd noise those two went over big and sounded great.

Night Ranger rating:

Foreigner rating:

Journey rating:

No comments: