I remember having a disagreement with a friend of mine back in 1979 about Foreigner (yes, I’m an old guy). Being a bit of a musical snob, my position was that the band was corporate, faceless and, worst of all, formulaic. My friend didn’t care. He enjoyed the music. For him, that was all that mattered.
I must admit that, although I wasn’t always a fan, I do know every lyric to every one of their hits. Forty years as classic rock staples will do that. The songs are well crafted and serve as iconic touchpoints for the late 70’s and early 80’s and you have to appreciate the group for what they have achieved.
Foreigner brought their act to the ACL Live at the Moody Theater stage Sunday night. The theater was full of people my age who were just like my friend from high school. They came for what matters to them – the music and the memories that they bring.
I say this because the faceless, corporate band from the late 1970’s is even more so today. There are no band members on the stage this night who performed on the original recordings of the songs they were playing. For all intents and purposes, they are a cover band.
To be fair, Mick Jones is technically still in the group. He is a founding member of Foreigner. It was his band, and he is keeping it going. But Mick is 73 years old, and his health reflects that. He rarely shows up to play with the band, and when he does, he does not play for the entire show. He did play at the Austin360 Amphitheater last summer. He did not play this night.
But did the audience notice? Or an even bigger question is – did the audience even care?
The band played energetic, true-to-the-original versions of Foreigner’s biggest hits. Vocalist Kelly Hansen has an amazing voice that is similar enough to original vocalist Lou Gramm. So similar that I doubt many in the audience even realized that he wasn’t Lou Gramm. I say this having overheard an audience member comment on how good he still sounded. Never mind that Hansen is quite a few years younger than Gramm.
All of that aside, Hansen is a tremendous frontman and the show itself cannot be faulted. Hansen was in constant motion, frequently raising his mic stand over his head and punctuating each tune with a thrust at the expected moments. He was a joy to watch.
And the fact that this is basically a cover band doesn’t diminish the fact that the current lineup is comprised of journeymen musicians. Bassist Jeff Pilson was a member of both Dokken and Dio and still plays with an intensity that demands your undivided attention. Guitarist and Saxophone player Thom Gimbel has toured with Aerosmith, among others. Drummer Chris Frazier played and recorded with Steve Vai and Whitesnake. Keyboardist Michael Bluestein and Guitarist Bruce Watson are accomplished players in their own right. Considering that this lineup has been together for about twelve years, it is no wonder that they function as a well-oiled machine.
Because the songs sounded true to the original, and because the band was both tight and energetic, the crowd focused on what they came for – the songs. From the opening chords of “Double Vision,” every song the band played was a bonafide hit. And those in the sold-out audience let their inhibitions go, singing along with every lyric in a communal ritual that was simply amazing to witness. “Cold as Ice,” “Feels like the First Time,” “Juke Box Hero” and so on and so on. At times the singing was so loud you could not hear Hansen. It is a rare show when you can get an older crowd (i.e. my generation) on their feet, singing and dancing along with every song for an entire show. I had to chuckle when from the middle of the audience someone raised their walking cane over their head in triumphant glory.
For the encore, the band brought out Pflugerville’s Connally High School Choir to sing the choral part of “I Want to Know What Love Is” that had the audience singing and swaying along. It was a nice touch, albeit now predictable. In fact, the entire setlist and show were almost identical to when the band last played Austin six months ago and they performed the same song with Austin’s Bowie High School Choir.
Again, no one seemed to care.
It was the music that mattered.
And the music sounded good. Very good.