Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Foreigner @ Salle Pleyel, Paris - October 4th, 2022

According to the marquee, a band that calls itself Foreigner was playing at the Salle Pleyel last night. Yet on stage, not one of the musicians from the original band was to be found, not even Mick Jones, who had anchored the band for nearly fifty years. In their stead, a group of seasoned, faceless pros did their best to recreate the classic songs that have been mainstays of classic rock radio since the release of the self-titled debut  in 1977.

"What's in a name?" asked Juliet in William Shakespeare's most famous play. In our case, what's in a band name? Is it a brand? Is it a repertoire? Is it the band members? The short answer is: it depends on the band. While it is perfectly acceptable for bands like the Temptations, Deep Purple, AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd to carry on with only one original member, I don't think anybody would accept Mick Jagger or Keith Richards touring with a bunch of random musicians under The Rolling Stones banner.

But what to make of bands that have zero original member? This isn't an unprecedented situation: bands as diverse as Napalm Death, Blackfoot, Yes, Thin Lizzy or the Sun Ra Arkestra are out touring with no one from their early days. No one bats an eye when a symphony orchestra changes members, or when a theatrical troupe keeps going for several centuries. Why is it such a sensitive issue for rock bands? Again, it depends on the band. Obviously, no one but the Fab Four would be legitimate in touring the world billing themselves as the Beatles, playing their songs. But in Foreigner's case, the new alumni seem well accepted by the fans.

So vocalist Kelly Hansen, formerly of Hurricane, and bassist Jeff Pilson, formerly of Dokken, are now the faces of the current Foreigner band, carrying the legacy into the 21st century. But the real stars are the songs. Whatever doubt I or others may have had when entering the venue, whatever cynical viewpoint I held on what is essentially a glorified tribute band, was shattered by an avalanche of hits and classics. Songs that we all know, songs that have been a part of the culture for several decades.

It helped that the band has centered its live show around the first five records. It's essentially a greatest hits set, and the act is unlikely to change. No one wants to hear new songs, no one wants to hear deep cuts. We want to hear the hits and we want to hear them played respectfully. This is what these guys are all about: the legacy of the songs.

Kelly Hansen is a phenomenal singer. He doesn't sound like his predecessor Lou Gramm, but that's not a bad thing. He hits the notes just right, and he does it with his own voice and personality. As a frontman, he's very charismatic and engaging. He even took a victory lap in the crowd during Cold As Ice. Bruce Watson on the guitar has the daunting task of reproducing all the little nuances that Mick Jones instilled into the performances, those melodic motifs that helped elevate these songs into the pantheon of AOR. Michael Bluestein on the keyboards is the guardian of the sonic temple: those waves of synthesizers is what the general public associates with the Foreigner song. And he's not above taking a wonderfully ridiculous keytar solo, either! Jeff Pilson had sprained his ankle just before taking the stage, but even sitting down he has the the presence of a rock star, whether he was manning the low end or the other keyboards. Chris Frazier on the drums has both power and finesse, and the "new guy" Luis Maldonado completes the line-up.

Is this Foreigner? Is this a tribute band? Who cares. These guys rocked the house and played non-stop hits for 90 minutes. Whatever you want to call them, they will remain Juke Box Heroes.

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