Listen to any classic rock radio station in North America and you’ll get a daily dose of Foreigner. They are one of the top selling bands of all time with more than 75 million albums sold worldwide. Founder Mick Jones is in the Songwriting Hall of Fame. 22 Top 100 Billboard hits, including their number one smash hit I Want To Know What Love Is.
Jones is the only remaining original member of Foreigner. The band is now comprised of bassist Jeff Pilson (ex-dokken), Thom Gimble on guitar/keys/sax/flute, guitarist Bruce Watson (ex-Rod Stewart), Michael Bluestein on keys, drummer Chris Frazier (ex-Steve Vai) and vocalist Kelly Hansen.
I was always a casual Foreigner fan. After my interview with Gimble, (click here to listen) I really started listening to the band. This band had all the goods back in the late 70s and 80s.. Solid singing, songwriting and musicianship. Mick Jones is a master songwriter with incredible dynamics.
All my listening was for naught, The show at Ottawa’s TD Place was a greatest hits package. The most recent song on the setlist was Say You Will from 1987’s Inside Information album.
And that is exactly what the crowd wanted. Hit after hit after hit. And that’s exactly what we got.
A little about the band. I must admit, I was a little skeptical when they hit the stage. Jones was not on the stage. The six members, led by Hansen’s incredible command of the tunes, and the crowd quickly changed my mind. Hansen has been with the band since 2005 and he carried on the legacy of original sing Lou Gramm perfectly. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
Pilson is, as Hansen put it, a true rock star. This guy had endless energy. It’s a little different, musically, from his former band Dokken, but he had all the rock star moves, interacting with the crowd and laying down an incredible groove for every tune.
Gimble is a master musician. Playing guitar, keys, sax and flute, he was the laid back, smiling dude that every band needs, and he played the role to a tee. His solo on Urgent, originally played by Junior Walker was one of the highlights of the night.
Guitarist Bruce Watson , with his hair that Hansen “likes to play with when he’s sleeping”, was exactly what you need as a replacement player. He’s been there since 2011 and he knows his role perfectly.
Frazier was something else. My chest is still pounding from his double bass infused drum solo that featured splashing water
Keyboardist Bluestein, at the back of the stage, also had his moment in the spotlight as he rattled of some impressive runs in a Deep Purple influenced solo.
The only thing missing was the MAN himself, Mick Jones. As good as the band was, it was a tremendous disappointment that there was no Jones at the show.
The lack of Jones didn’t stop the fans from singing and dancing along to the first few songs which included set opener Double vision, Head Games,Cold As Ice, Waiting for a Girl Like You and Dirty White Boy. A beautiful acoustic version of Say You Will, which according to Hansen was arranged by Pilson, led to the band introductions.
Hansen ended the band intros by introducing Jones, who performed the rest of the set. The 73 year old kicked into Feels Like The First Time and the party truly started. What was obvious to me, was the amount of respect shown to the legend, not only by the fans but also by the band members. Things definitely kicked into overdrive with Jones on stage.
Urgent, with the aforementioned sax solo, was solid, but it was Juke Box Hero that truly dominated this great show.
The extended version was absolutely jaw dropping. It was one the highlight of not only this show, but one of the best songs I’ve ever seen performed live. It had a power and groove to it that just oozed awesomeness. That E chord after “he heard one guitar, played by three Les Paul’s, slung way down low, was a goose bump inducing moment.
It would have been fitting to end the show after Juke Box Hero, but the band returned for a three song encore, which included Ottawa’s St. Francis Xavier High School choir joining in on I Want To Know What Love Is, before Foreigner finished up with Hot Blooded.
This show was a prime example of what classic rock bands should do. Foreigner had the audience engaged from the first note and had everyone on their feet, after Hansen scolded my section for not standing up. The band was tight, fun, energetic and downright professional. Hansen is a true entertainer and should be applauded for not trying to change the songs too much, and instead honoring Lou Gramm and the original recordings.
On an Ottawa night that was Cold As Ice, these Hot Blooded Juke Box Heroes didn’t play any Head Games. (Sorry, couldn’t resist). They just rocked hard. Foreigner, Say You Will come back to Ottawa soon.
Canadian rockers Chilliwack opened the show with a 7 song set of Canadian classics that included Whatcha Gonna Do, Arms Of Mary, My Girl (Gone Gone Gone) and Fly At Night. This band has been around for 48 years and put up a solid, tight set featuring great guitar work, nice harmonies and a bunch of songs that had me saying “They did this song?” during every song. Amazing how many songs we know, b ut aren’t sure who the artist is.
What a night!