LIVE: Foreigner @ SPAC, 6/16/18


Review by Mark Alexander Hudson

The triple-whammy Dad rock assault of Foreigner, Whitesnake and Jason Bonham that hit Saratoga Springs last month was a case of the good, the bad and the average.

First off the average. The clunkily named Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening (name changed from the JBLZ Experience at the request of the original band for some reason) were really no more than a glorified tribute act. Despite the presence of Bonham Jr., an excellent drummer who proved his ability to recreate his father’s work in the (to this date) last appearance of the “real” Led Zeppelin in 2007, this outfit was sonically on point but sorely lacking in personality. Vocalist James Dylan hit the Plant notes impressively but with zero of the charisma and stage presence of the original. The rest of the band – guitarist Jimmy Sakarai (a somewhat creepy Jimmy Page clone), bassist Dorian Heartsong and guitarist-keyboardist Alex Howland – were not helped by the mix which favored Bonham’s battering and Dylan’s vocals, rendering much of their efforts inaudible. It would have been nice to hear some deep cuts, but we got the tried and tested Led Zep greatest hits, and I came away with the realization that I really don’t need to hear “Stairway to Heaven” ever again. By anyone.

Then on to the big disappointment for me. Full disclosure. I like Whitesnake, and I like David Coverdale. I think the albums he made with Deep Purple stand amongst the very finest of the genre. And the original Whitesnake was a hard charging blues-rock band with real power. Then came the ’80s, MTV, big hair and well, you know… The version of Whitesnake that hit the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center only has Coverdale as a reference point to those glory days.

The band are all fine musicians – Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra on guitars; Michael Devin on bass, Tommy Aldridge on drums and Michele Luppi on keys. There were two problems, however. First was the sound – a maelstrom of everything louder than everything else which destroyed any subtlety in the playing. Now, of course, Whitesnake’s songs are as about as subtle as a brick through a window, but nevertheless, it would have been nice to make out which one was being played. The second problem was Coverdale himself. Looking great, throwing shapes and tossing his luxuriant lion’s mane of hair, he unfortunately forgot to actually perform, singing a line and then holding out the mic to let the audience sing the next three. I don’t believe he completed one verse or chorus throughout the entire set. If I go to see Whitesnake, I want to hear David Coverdale sing the songs, not the inebriated middle-aged ladies standing behind me.

So it was up to Foreigner to save the day for rock & roll, and, thank goodness, they did just that. I was a little skeptical, as this version of Foreigner also contains only one original member – guitarist and chief songwriter Mick Jones. Crucially they have been without their singer Lou Gramm for many years. If you doubt Gramm’s excellence just go back and listen to the records. Gramm was one of the very best rock singers of the period, tough and convincing on the rockers, and soulful and tender on the ballads. Big shoes to fill, and current vocalist Kelly Hansen did a fantastic job, putting his own character into the songs, while proving to be an engaging and likeable frontman. AND he sang every note of every tune. The line-up was rounded out by bassist Jeff Pilson, guitarist Bruce Watson, guitarist-saxman Tom Gimbel, keyboardist Michael Bluestein and drummer Chris Frazier.

The other thing that stands the test of time with Foreigner are the songs. Count them off – you know them even if you think you don’t – “Hot Blooded,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Cold as Ice,” “Urgent” and on and on – all deceptively simple with great melodies and hooks so cast iron you could cook an omelette in them. I found myself singing along with the rest of the crowd. You really can’t help yourself.

It didn’t feel like the first time. But it felt good.

Immigrant Song
Good Times Bad Times
The Ocean
Over the Hills and Far Away
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Whole Lotta Love
Rock & Roll
Stairway to Heaven

Bad Boys
Give Me All Your Love
Love Ain’t No Stranger
Slow an’ Easy
(Guitar duel)
Crying in the Rain
Is This Love
Slide It In
Here I Go Again
Still of the Night

Long Long Way from Home
Double Vision
Head Games
Cold as Ice
Waiting for a Girl Like You
Dirty White Boy
Feels Like the First Time
Juke Box Hero
I Want to Know What Love Is
Hot Blooded

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