Last year Foreigner released the excellent Alive & Rocking' concert DVD, which captured their heroic appearance in front of a heavy metal hungry crowd at the 2006 Bang Your Head!!! Festival, in Balingen, Germany. This show featured the recently revamped lineup of Kelly Hansen (lead vocals), Jeff Pilson (bass), Jason Bonham (drums), Tom Gimbel (guitar & saxophone), Jeff Jacobs (keyboards), and the sole remaining original Foreigner member, Mick Jones, on guitar. Michael Bluestein has since replaced Jacobs on keyboards.
When the original voice of Foreigner, Lou Gramm, quit the band again in 2003, I'm sure it was no easy task to find a worthy replacement for one of the best rock vocalists of his time, but Mick Jones definitely hit a home run when he invited ex-Hurricane frontman, Kelly Hansen, into the fold. Hansen sounds similar enough to Gramm to keep that signature Foreigner sound firmly in tact, but he also has enough unique qualities to elevate these live versions well beyond the originals. The guy sounds amazing, and he is also one of the most charismatic frontmen in the game.
On a gorgeous, June 1st, Sunday night in Ashburn, Virginia, this current incarnation of Foreigner swung by the Loudoun Summer Music Fest as a warm up to their 2008 summer tour, which officially kicks off in July. I never though I would again be so excited about a band I once worshiped way back in junior high school, and haven't really listened to regularly in over 20 years, but after seeing the killer set they turned in on that Alive & Rocking' DVD, I couldn't wait to see in person if these guys were really that good.
With the sun still blazing overhead at about 7:30 PM, Foreigner took the stage and instantly ignited the crowd with the Foreigner 4 leadoff track, "Night Life". They couldn't have picked a more energized song to kick the show off with. Although the sound mix had me a little worried during the first song, the overall volume was much too low and it sounded somewhat muddy, the sound man cleared things up by the second song, and everything sounded awesome for the rest of the show.
From there, it was a steady barrage of hit anthems that few other rock bands can match. "Head Games," "Cold As Ice," "Blue Morning. Blue Day," and "Waiting For A Girl Like You" – are you kidding me!? But it would only get better – much better. Six songs into the set, Hansen announced the arrival of a brand new song, "Too Late," which is going to be on their soon to be released new compilation album, No End In Site: The Very Best of Foreigner.
OK, so Foreigner now has twice as many compilation albums as they do actual studio albums – literally. I'll give you that much. But maybe this is a sign of more new things to come. I certainly hope so with this fantastic new lineup. I cannot emphasize enough, just how tight and fresh this band sounds now – and that is coming from someone who pretty much wrote them off 20 years ago.
"Too Late" emphasized the signature power-ballad-meets-arena-rock-anthem formula that kept Foreigner on the charts for two straight decades, and it sounded a lot like the stuff from their debut album, especially "Cold As Ice". Another highlight of the first set was when the entire band came to the front of the stage to perform an acoustic version of their 1987 hit "Say You Will," which featured some amazing harmony vocals. This excellent version will also appear on the new album.
The first set ended intensely with the two Foreigner 4 anthems "Urgent" and "Juke Box Hero." Tom Gimbel stole the show during "Urgent" with his powerhouse sax solo, and Bonham got to shine on his dad's tune, when "Juke Box Hero" detours into "Whole Lotta Love" territory for a few bars. Two incredible performances.
After "Long, Long Way From Home" kicked off the encore set, Foreigner treated the crowd to their first and only #1 single, "I Want To Know What Love Is." To tell you the truth, if this song had come on the radio on the way to the concert, I probably would have changed the station, but this live version had just enough extra charm and soul to really win me over. Hansen had the entire crowd eating out of his hands, and I was singing at the top of my lungs just like everyone around me.
"Hot Blooded" closed out the show magnificently. Jones started off the performance with a short blues-metal jam before firing off that memorable guitar lick that kicks off the song. The 63 year old Jones is certainly playing better than ever now. Nobody in the crowd wanted to leave after that one, especially since they hadn't played "Double Vision" yet. Unfortunately, my favorite Foreigner song would remain retired this night, but I certainly could not complain.
This may not be your daddy's Foreigner anymore, but they wildly exceeded my expectations. Don't miss them on tour this summer.
Cold As Ice
Blue Morning Blue Day
Waiting For A Girl Like You
Too Late (new)
Dirty White Boy
Say You Will
Feels Like The First Time
Juke Box Hero
Long, Long Way From Home
I Want To Know What Love Is