Only a couple of weeks had passed since my last trip up to London, but I found myself back in the capital for a double headline show from two great 1980s rock bands. This show was part of a much wider tour headlined by Skid Row, marking their first UK headline shows since officially confirming former DragonForce singer ZP Theart as their new frontman, which took in much of the UK. The London show was special however, as it was also announced that AOR veterans Night Ranger would be performing too. Night Ranger were in the UK playing the HRH AOR festival in Wales on the same weekend, so fitting in another show in London made sense for them. While Night Ranger have played in London a few times over the years, I have never been able to make the logistics work to travel up to see them. I made it work this time however, so took the train up from Plymouth to see them and Skid Row entertain a sold out O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire. Skid Row are worth travelling for in their own right too, and their show at Plymouth's now-demolished White Rabbit back in 2013 will always stick in my brain. I had not had the chance to see the heavy metal act since then however, so was looking forward to catching up with them too, as well as taking in Night Ranger for the first time. The O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire is a decent mid-sized venue, but I have always thought that the stage there is a bit low which makes views from the pit quite poor unless you happen to be very close to the front. In light of this, I opted to stand in one of the little viewing platforms near the bar, which provided a great view of the stage. Sadly the sound mix was often not as good as the view, with portions of the night sounding extremely muddy. I always think this is pretty unforgivable for established professional venues and bands, so it was a real shame that this kept rearing its head.
Bluesy rockers Bad Touch hit the stage not long after the doors opened and treated the growing crowd to half an hour of strong riffs and catchy choruses. Being the first band of a four-band bill is not always easy, but Bad Touch gave a good account of themselves - despite battling the above-mentioned muddy sound at times. I had seen the band a couple of times before, although not a for a few years, but I felt that this was the best showing I had seen from them yet. The presumably newer songs seemed stronger than I ones I remember from the previous gigs, and were packed with lots of excellent bluesy guitar soloing. The band had never really grabbed me previously, but this time I found myself enjoying them a lot more. It seemed that I was not alone in this, and by the time their set ended it seemed that many in the crowd were enjoying themselves. I think I will have to investigate the band further, as many of the songs played here were strong.
Toseland also only had half an hour, but the ever-growing band put on a good show which also seemed to go down well with the crowd. Fronted by former World Superbike champion James Toseland (vocals/keyboards), the band play modern hard rock in the vein of bands like Alter Bridge. Toseland are somewhat more generic than Alter Bridge however, but I still enjoyed their set. Many of the songs are based around simple, cutting riffs but all of them had big stadium choruses that were definitely lapped up by those in attendance. For a couple of songs Toseland was behind his keyboard, which helped to add an extra dimension to the material. Piano always adds depth to songs, so it was good to see things being changed up a little with this addition. I am not sure that I was tempted enough by Toseland's songs to now go out and buy their albums, but their half an hour on stage certainly was not unenjoyable.
Night Ranger were the first of the two headliners to play, and sadly they seemed to suffer the brunt of the poor sound. The first half of their set was extremely muddy, although it did improve as time passed. While this show seemed to be largely an evening of nostalgia from the two headliners, Night Ranger opened their set with Somehow Someway from last year's Don't Let Up. The song is a driving rocker which got the show off to a good start, before going straight into Touch of Madness from 1983's Midnight Madness. Jack Blades' (vocals/bass guitar) vocals were quite high in the mix, which was good, but the guitars sounded very mushy and the keyboards were almost inaudible. The sound hit a real low however with Sing Me Away, which featured Kelly Keagy (vocals/drums) on vocals, as Keagy's vocals were pretty much totally buried in the mix. The reaction from the crowd was quite muted early on, probably due to the poor sound, but things did pick up a bit from Coming of Age onward. The old Damn Yankees song (of which Blades was a part of) got everyone going, before a personal favourite Rumours in the Air was wheeled out. The sound was actually pretty good on this on, and during the following self-titled song which felt big and heavy. The sound mostly seemed strong from this point on, so the second half of the set was definitely the more enjoyable part. Lots of singing from the crowd ensued with a little medley of old Damn Yankees songs, including the epic power ballad High Enough, and Keagy was actually heard this time during Sentimental Street. The real highlight of the night however was a potent version of Don't Tell Me You Love Me, which also included a little snippet of Deep Purple's Highway Star. This song allowed both Brad Gillis (guitar/vocals) and Keri Kelli (guitar/vocals) to shine with some excellent guitar solos, before the high-charting power ballad Sister Christian saw the biggest sing-a-long of the night up to that point. There was time for one more, and (You Can Still) Rock in America proved to be a great closing number. By this point it seemed that most were really into what Night Ranger were doing, and they managed to end a fairly mixed set on a high. If the whole set had sounded as good as the last few numbers this would have been an excellent outing, but as it is it has to go down as a disappointing, but ultimately still enjoyable, hour or so of music. The setlist was:
Touch of Madness
Four in the Morning
Sing Me Away
Coming of Age [Damn Yankees cover]
Rumours in the Air
Come Again [Damn Yankees cover]/High Enough [Damn Yankees cover]
Don't Tell Me You Love Me/Highway Star [Deep Purple cover]
(You Can Still) Rock in America
Luckily for the majority of the crowd, who seemed to be there mainly to see Skid Row, Skid Row's set was largely free of any sound issues. Skid Row were always at the grubby end of their 1980s rock scene, so their loud and in-your-face sound filled the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire as soon as they hit the stage with Slave to the Grind from their 1991 album of the same name. With exception of a Ramones cover that was played, the rest of the songs in the set were culled from their first two albums. We are the Damned from a recent EP was on the printed setlists but was not played due to the looming curfew, so this really was a trip back to the past with some of the band's best songs. What was immediately clear is how perfect Theart is for Skid Row. His powerful, but controlled, voice allows him to screech the vocals with real venom when it is required of him and tone it down for the ballads. He really shone throughout the night, while original members Dave 'Snake' Sabo (guitars/vocals), Scotti Hill (guitars/vocals), Rachel Bolan (vocals/bass guitar) ground out those timeless riffs and grooves. It was great to hear a few songs played that were not in the Plymouth setlist a few years ago, with Sweet Little Sister and Livin' on a Chain Gang being some of the early standouts. A real highlight was the duo of the punky and sleazy Big Guns being followed up with the pseudo-ballad 18 and Life. These two songs are ones you would always expect to hear at a Skid Row show, but they never fail to impress. Theart in particular shone on the latter, and shows just what an amazing voice he has. Rattlesnake Shake was another one that I had not heard them do live before, before Bolan took the microphone for the aforementioned Ramones cover - a furious take on Psycho Therapy. He mentioned during his spiel prior to the song that this was their fifth sold out show in London in a row. It sees that Skid Row are still as popular as ever over here, and I hope that means it will not be too long before they return. The main set came to an end with the ballad Quicksand Jesus and the heavy, bluesy groove of Monkey Business. The band left the stage to cheers, but it was not long before they were back for a couple more. Another ballad in I Remember You saw plenty more singing from the crowd, but it was Youth Gone Wild that really got everyone going one last time. It is easily the band's best known song, so there was plenty of movement from the big crowd, especially as Theart led them through a bit of a sing-a-long part way through. The band left the stage having made their shorter-than-average set really count, and I am sure everyone walked away happy. The setlist was:
Slave to the Grind
Sweet Little Sister
Piece of Me
Livin' on a Chain Gang
18 and Life
Makin' a Mess
Psycho Therapy [Ramones cover]
I Remember You
Youth Gone Wild
Overall, despite some sound issues throughout, this was still a very enjoyable evening. Night Ranger were still fun despite sounding like mud at times, and Skid Row really impressed once again. It is great to see bands like this still attracting good-sized crowds here in the UK, and I will definitely be trying to catch them again when they return.