Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Foreigner - Mississippi Moon Bar

As any American that is awake at this time in history has heard, immigration is a hot potato issue.  Sure States like Arizona, California, and Texas are on the forefront but the rest of America is in the midst of it too.  Regardless of individual political views and finger jabs to the kidneys, we can all attribute the disputes to views that are shaped by foreigners.  I think the real issue here is not every single immigrant, it can be condensed down to one group of "Foreigners".

This group of "Foreigner"s is unlike the "prototypical" immigrant, no this group is a specific group...  Okay its a band, Foreigner actually (wrong blog for the immigration situation).  With Mick Jones and Lou Gramm as well as the remainder of the sextet, Foreigner grabbed the world by the neck with its first album titled oddly enough 'Foreigner".  The album sold over four million copies in the US and with songs like "Feels Like the First Time", and "Cold As Ice" wove itself into the hearts and minds of its fans.

Unlike many bands from the same era Foreigner continued chugging along in the US with albums like "Double Vision", "Hot Blooded", "4" and "Agent Provocateur".  Subsequently Foreigner continued to grow new fans with each release and I think its fairly safe to say that every teen from that era can name more than two songs from the band.  As I creep into the darkest and dankest places of my brain I remember hearing the song "Juke Box Hero" at the first dance I attended (isn't that sad, I can remember a song and nothing else).  "Juke Box Hero" was the quintessential nobody-to-rock legend song and I think more than one or two million fans probably at one time wanted to be that very person (the rock legend, stick with me here).

As true as that is, I (as well as 1,999,000 others) never became that "Hero" thankfully too I think.  Unfortunately I never was able to see "Foreigner" live (stupid small town, stupid Midwest).  So let's jump ahead twenty-five years or so, more specifically May 24th, 2012 the night "Foreigner" made the trip to the "Mississippi Moon Bar" in Dubuque, Iowa (I meant to write this the next day but I'm old and bump into things).  Interestingly the Foreigner I saw wasn't the same Foreigner from years gone by.  I should have expected that honestly, Gramm had left and launched a successful solo career, the other members scattered about like the fluff of a dandelion in the breeze, leaving only Mick Jones.

With Jones as the only remaining original member I still expected only the best from the band but then...  Jones underwent bypass surgery in February, 2012 so the version of the band I saw that warm May night included not a one original member.  Ironically I didn't realize any of that (until I got home that evening), and honestly it didn't matter a single bit.  With Kelly Hansen on vocals the band has a dynamic feel that honestly forced me to into NOT comparing him with Lou Gramm.  Gramm is hard to replace but Hansen has a grasp of not only the lyrics but also the persona of the entire history of the band.  That's a big statement (if not totally confusing) but the "persona" of a band includes its history, its nuances, its strength, and accomplishing that feat is nearly impossible.

Hansen is brilliant, and his stage presence makes him the perfect choice for a band with their history.  As Hanson performed he engaged the crowd and made the experience an absolute blast!

Foreigner's music is simply larger than life (in a rock music sort of way), its resplendent with synthesizers, guitar, bass and saxophone.  The complexity of their body of work requires musicians that are above and beyond simply "good".  Foreigner has a "jack-of-all-trades", he plays rhythm guitar, sax, keyboards and flute, that man is Tom Gimbel.  I can say without a doubt this man is one of the best musicians I have ever seen, in any genre.  Gimbel was the "musician" form of Kelly Hansen, he is really that amazing.  Despite the fact that from my perch Gimbel looked like Will Ferrell, I enjoyed watching his energy and the seemingly seamless (I almost pulled a brain muscle typing "seemingly seamless") ever changing instruments during the set.

Let's go back to the past for a moment and let me veer you away from Foreigner as I remember a concert at the "Five Flags Center" in Dubuque, Iowa.  I remember as if it were yesterday (kind of, lets see where I go with this) and a KISS concert with the opening act Dokken.  I was really excited when I went to that show because I was a huge Dokken fan so that show became the high watermark of my early jaunt through music (I would have said "Journey" but that would have been too easy).  The show was deafening if I'm being honest but it was worth every minute of it.  KISS was KISS (the "Hottest Band in the World") and Dokken was every bit of great as Gene, Paul, Eric and Bruce (Kulick).  Lets board the Wayback Machine and go forward to that May night and as Hansen introduced the band he mentioned the name of Foreigner's bass player "Jeff Pilson".

Pilson was at that same Dokken/KISS concert that I was, he was in the band Dokken (I know it took forever to get there but do you see how I pulled that one out of a hat).  Back then Pilson had long hair, glitter and Don Dokken's ego to contend with but now Pilson is the backbone of Foreigner.  Bass is such an important part of hard rock music therefore it makes perfect sense that Pilson would be that backbone.  It was fun watching Pilson, I had so much fun trying to think back to those Dokken shows but that quickly dissipated as he played all of those Foreigner signature songs.  Pilson took the path of Hansen and Gimbel, there was no part of that show that he wasn't phenomenal.

Looking back at that entire set, I now can see why Foreigner was so great that evening, great musicians can play any kind of music but with material like that of Foreigner the relationship can only be amazing.  All fans of hard rock music know that at times those in bands are larger than life characters that believe their own press but I doubt this is the case with Foreigner.

To prove that point I can guide you to the song "I Want to Know What Love Is", and the inclusion of the Clarke College Choir as backing vocals.  When the song was recorded Foreigner employed the New Jersey Mass Choir and the tradition has apparently remained.  So?  If the band had ginormous egos would they have continued the tradition (or even started it)?  I didn't attend Clarke College but as they performed I began to swell with pride (don't go there).  I really loved watching the choir, they infused energy into the song that I didn't expect.  In the front row of the choir was a young lady that looked like she was having the time of her life, rocking out with the band and living in the moment it was very cool.

As I remember back to the days of that first dance and the songs of my teenage years I realize many of these songs are by Foreigner.  From my self-titled theme song "Dirty White Boy" to "Head Games" to "I Wanna Know What Love Is" these are songs that in a way define many of us.  Music is subjective but I know that when I think back I hear those songs.  I was unable to see Foreigner in concert during those teen years but I saw Foreigner in a time where I can look back, looking past the trials of those times I can see the good times.  Foreigner is on tour in 2012, I was fortunate to grab that little piece of my past and believe me when I tell you you should too!

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