In 1977, Foreigner came on to the scene with a killer debut album. The group combined the talents of Black Sheep vocalist Lou Gramm, and Spooky Tooth guitarist Mick Jones. Over the years the group experienced countless hits around the globe and extensive tours, with Jones remaining the one original member (Gramm departed the band in the late 80s but did briefly reunite for a few years in the mid 90s-early 2000s). These days, the group is fronted by former Hurricane frontman Kelly Hansen, and also features classic Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson, along with an assortment of other talented musicians not from the band’s classic era, but many of whom have played in this incarnation of the group for many years now.
The show was at the Star of the Desert Arena in the Buffalo Bill’s Hotel Casino in Primm, at the Stateline (about 40 miles south of Vegas, on the Nevada/California border). It was my first time seeing a show here in many years (last one was Dennis DeYoung in 2011), but I was especially surprised to see how crowded the venue was for the gig; it’s good to see quality classic rock has no expiration date. The arena is larger than “small” venues, but smaller than the bigger arenas in Las Vegas proper. The crowds were filled wall to wall, and it’s fantastic to see fans out in droves. Entry to the venue was also a breeze, with tearing of tickets, and that’s it. No annoying security checkpoints or metal detectors was a refreshing change, though there were still plenty of security guards on patrol inside the venue proper. This is the way entry to any venue should be, with the exception of some of the heavier/more aggressive acts/crowds/clubs/etc.
There is one thing I do need to get off my chest before getting underway with the review. According to the band’s Wikipedia entry and numerous other photographs/promotional material/etc., the current lineup of the band is Mick Jones, Thom Gimbel, Jeff Pilson, Kelly Hansen, Michael Bluestein, Chris Frazier, and Bruce Watson.
Mick Jones was nowhere to be found.
The one original member of the band was not present at the show, despite the fact that he was pictured in all promotional photos advertising the show, including on the photo pass I was given. I understand Jones has had to miss several shows over the years due to his health, but his photo and name shouldn’t be in the advertising if he won’t be present for the gig.
Fortunately, I doubt a less knowledgeable fan would have known the difference. Because these guys kicked ass.
With the exceptions of Kelly and Jeff, I wasn’t familiar with any of the other men on the stage. But it didn’t take long for them to win me over. These guys perform with a passion and chemistry which is unrivaled, and I’m pleased to say that overall this was a damn good gig. The members of the band got chances to cut loose with solos and jams, and it’s clear these guys appreciate the material, each other, and their audience alike. Kelly Hansen even rushed into the crowd, much to the surprise of the fans!
Every one of these musicians wowed me, but the true surprise standout was frontman Kelly Hansen. I’m familiar with Hansen for his role in the 80s rock band Hurricane (remember their hit, “I’m On To You?”) But he’s the frontman Foreginer needs, and he more than does justice to the material. I did have the luxury of seeing original Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm a few years ago, but Hansen has an on-stage energy I doubt many others could rival, including Gramm as he stands now (though I definitely appreciate the man's place in rock and roll history). The modern incarnation of Foreigner couldn’t ask for a better frontman.
The only other complaint I had with the show was a paint-by-number setlist. Essentially, it was their biggest hits live, with a few minor omissions, and no real surprises. It was my first time seeing the group live, though I’ve been told their setlists are mostly the same at each show/tour. These were kick-ass renditions of cuts like “Head Games,” “Urgent,” and “Juke Box Hero,” but why couldn’t we get a deep cut or two, like “Headknocker” or “Starrider?” Interestingly, this show actually fell on the same night as a Foreigner tribute band in Las Vegas proper, and I hope to see that band perform soon to see how the setlists and performances between the bands stack up.
Foreigner is alive and well, and while the absence of Mick Jones and the relatively predictable setlist were noticeable, they certainly didn’t derail what was a killer show fronted by the underrated-as-hell Kelly Hansen. The band is definitely worth seeing if you catch them, but you may want to check ahead of time to see if you’re getting a gig with Mick or not.
All photos by Taylor T. Carlson.