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The Christiansburg High School choir performs "I Want To Know What Love Is" with Foreigner at Elmwood Park Thursday night.

Mick Jones was already an experienced hit songwriter when his “I Want to Know What Love Is” became a smash in 1984. 

Thirty-five years later, 4,500 people filled a sold-out Elmwood Park on Thursday night to hear that number and 10 others that topped the pop and rock charts when Jones’ band, Foreigner, was a 1970s and 1980s juggernaut. 

Behind the band for that song was the Christiansburg High School chorus, for the massive, churchy harmonies that flavored it. More on that later.

Jones was not there to enjoy the moment. He has not performed with his band since about mid-August. Neither was Lou Gramm, who sang that song and the rest. 

The crowd that packed the venue all the way to the top of the hill facing Elmwood’s stage likely didn’t know and didn’t care. It was getting a deeply professional show from the best Foreigner tribute band imaginable. The sextet that spent about 90 minutes surveying ‘70s and ‘80s earworms was a handpicked unit. Jones, wherever he was on Thursday, had nothing to worry about. This version of Foreigner had the hits on lock, and the crowd on its side. 

Foreigner had a legimate frontman, too. Kelly Hansen, who worked with a post-Poison C.C. DeVille, had all the necessary range and chops for Foreigner’s metal-adjacent style, and even more charisma than necessary. 

Hansen knew his audience.

"Let's hear it from everyone who is over 40," he said. Screams rang out. "Let's hear it from everyone who is over 50," he said. Again, screams rang out. "Let's stop right there. I don't have all night for every decade," the 58-year old singer said. He called out for those younger than 40, too, and saw a fair amount of raised hands.

The band had a set list that had already registered with millions during a couple of decades, and which held up for the thousands at Elmwood. Set opener "Double Vision" and other late 1970s radio favorites  "Head Games," "Cold As Ice," "Dirty White Boy" and "Feels Like The First Time" led off the show, with power ballad "Waiting For A Girl Like You" falling in the middle of that list. The roughly chronological set list moved on to "Urgent" and "Juke Box Hero," before the encore.

Wait, that's only eight songs. Instrumental breaks from ringers Mike Bluestein on keys and drummer Chris Frazier simmered like a late 20th century rock show. Frazier's break summoned memories of rock drum god Tommy Aldridge. Lead guitarist Bruce Watson had a battery of hard rock riffs. Multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel was there for the guitar intro from "Dirty White Boy" and the funky sax of "Urgent," getting extra measures to blow on the latter. 

"Juke Box Hero," which like all of the set was right in key with the old school Foreigner songs, was another chance for Hansen to show his vocal might and audience relatability. 

That one closed the show, and Foreigner returned quickly to encore with its power ballad cash cow, "I Want To Know What Love Is," with the Christiansburg High singers — winners of a radio contest — joining about midway through.

"You guys look great," Hansen said. "You sound great. I hope you had a great time."

He encouraged the audience to sing along, too.

The yin and yang of Foreigner showed through with show-closing "Hot Blooded." If the band represented romantic inclinations, it also showed a lean toward the one-nighter, and its audience responded to both.

Wherever Jones is today, we hope he's feeling OK, because getting old sucks. He should as least relax into the knowledge that his songs still hold up for many who remember them from back then. His music and band provided a crowd-pleasing closer for the Budweiser Summer Series.

Opening act Jive Mother Mary delivered its seasoned tunes over about 45 minutes and benefited from a good sound mix, too. "I Tried to Let Go," "Keep On Keepin' On" and "Home Is Where The Heart Is" were strong warm-up tunes.

Contact Tad Dickens at tad.dickens@roanoke.com or 777-6474. Follow him on Twitter: @cutnscratch.  

 

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