Review and photos by John Jeffrey
This past Saturday marked Foreigner's four(th) time they've played in this general vicinity over the past few years, going back to their 2011 breakout tour with Night Ranger and Journey at Darien Lake. Of those performances, while there were some revolving door situations going in the drum and keyboard departments, nothing was as evident as the limited role at times, and in this case (like their 2012 gig at Lewiston, NY's "Artpark") the absence of the sole remaining founding member, and lead guitarist, Mick Jones. While some may be quick to crudely call the Jones-less lineup a "tribute" band, you have to keep in mind that not only did Jones essentially hand pick and approve of every member playing in the band, but has performed with them himself for years, some for well over a decade, as guitarist/saxophone player Tom Gimbel is approaching his 20 year milestone with the band, as he joined Foreigner in 1995.
Having seen Foreigner, both with and without Mick Jones, as expected, the vibe is rather different. While Bruce Watson does a remarkable job replicating Jones' lead work, it's hard not to miss his presence onstage. Keeping that in mind, there's also a "while the cat's away, the mice will play" thing kinda going on as well. With Mick's absence, most of the attention seems to gravitate towards lead singer, Kelly Hansen, who proves he has no problem running the show. The unusually verbose Hanson used every verbal tactic he could to get the mixed (mostly on the elderly side) casino crowd, up and out of their seats, which for the most part, unfortunately, did not work.
I don't know if Hansen missed the memo regarding what type of crowd they would be playing to, but the plethora of overtly sexual innuendos seemed to have missed the mark most of the time as well, as at certain points, it became so cringe worthy that I watched the father in front of me cradle his young son's head and ears to avoid him from hearing the vulgarities. To be fair, Hansen's stage raps would have been totally acceptable if they were playing to a 'Spring Break' type crowd, in the 20-50 year old range.
Musically, the band was top notch, putting on perhaps the best show I've ever seen them perform. Keyboardist Michael Bluestein and drummer Chris Frazier added some fresh accents to the songs that I've never heard before and they performed a keyboard/drum type musical interlude, which nicely segued into a full drum solo by Frazier. As with most bands, the crowd did seem to wane during what seemed to be lengthy solos, but I suspect this was by design, to ensure their 12 song set would surpass the customary 90 minute set time usually performed at the Seneca Niagara Casino.
As the show was coming to a close and the band brought out the Niagara Falls High School Concert Choir to join them on "I Want To Know What Love Is" (as part of the group's participation in the Grammy Foundation, where a $500 grant and donation was given to help further the foundations efforts for in-school music programs throughout the country), I noticed the father and son who were once sitting in front of me had walked up to the front of the stage, with the young man sitting on top of his father's shoulders. Kelly Hansen came over to the couple and asked the young man what his name was, and he told Hansen in the microphone that his name was "Oliver." Hansen proceeded to ask Oliver - who was dressed very formal, in a suit and tie - if he always dressed this way when he went to a rock concert, and Oliver gave a resounding, "Yes!" Seeing this little guy rocking out and hearing the enthusiasm in his voice confirmed my feelings that there is, in fact, a future for rock and roll, and with great performances like last Saturday night, Foreigner will remain part of it for some time to come.
Special Thanks to John Lappen and Phil Pantano
Review and photos by John Jeffrey