As you read these words, the Foreigner show at Elmwood Park has already sold out.
That is in large part due to the lingering nostalgia for such massive 1970s-1980s vintage hits as “Juke Box Hero,” “Cold As Ice,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Urgent” and, of course, “I Want To Know What Love Is.”
The band that hits the stage at Elmwood for Thursday’s Budweiser Summer Series closer will have only one original member, co-founder Mick Jones. No worries — folks who come out are going to hear the songs the way they were recorded, performed by expert musicians, the band’s Tom Gimbel said. Lou Gramm, who sang all those numbers, is no longer with Foreigner, but the vocals will be top-shelf, multi-instrumentalist and harmony singer Gimbel said.
Kelly Hansen has been Foreigner’s front man since 2005.
“He is delivering those high vocals night after night,” Gimbel said. “He’s superhuman. We don’t know how he does it. I think he’s got a really strict regimen, really dedicated, and he knows how to take care of himself and take care of his voice, and that’s how he’s able to knock the ball out of the park.
“He’s like a home run hitter. You ever see a home run derby, where all they do is smack it over the wall? That’s all he does. Steps up to the plate and zoom, knocks it out of the park.”
Gimbel, 59, has been with the band since 1995. Before that, he was with Aerosmith from 1989 to 1995. He said this version of Foreigner — he, guitarist Jones, Hansen (Hurricane, C.C. DeVille), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), keyboardist Mike Bluestein (Boz Skaggs, Stevie Nicks), guitarist Bruce Watson (B.B. King, Rod Stewart) and drummer Chris Frazier (Steve Vai, Edgar Winter) — has been at it for about eight years. Hansen and Pilson have been with Jones and Gimbel for 15.
That’s a lot of tour dates, playing the same hits night after night.
“Sometimes [we will release] a new song or two on a compilation CD. But it’s hard to play them live, because people just stare at you, saying, why are you doing this?” he said, laughing.
The hits, though, have held up well, he said, particularly “Waiting For A Girl Like You.”
“It still sounds perfect,” he said. “It was a good time for rock ’n’ roll. I think they really have stood the test of time extremely well. We see people that come from all different age brackets, running the full spectrum ... This music, it transcends the ages. Rock music is kind of a rarity to a certain extent these days.”
During the show, Hansen tells the audience that there is no pitch correction, no auto-tune, no vocoder, no computer tracks — simply real musicians playing real rock music, Gimbel said.
“I think there’s a fascination with parents telling kids, this is the way things were in olden times,” he said. “Shouting, stomping, singing. It’s an opportunity to yell. Where else do you get to do that? It’s like primal therapy … a primal scream. That’s what we really strive for every night, and so far Kelly has been able to elicit that response from, I would say, every audience I’ve ever worked with him.”
Gimbel’s favorite part of the night? The saxophone solo in “Urgent,” which was created by R&B legend Junior Walker. If someone asks him what is the highlight of his career, he answers, “Last night, when I did that thing in ‘Urgent.’”
That’s in a career of highlights that includes working with Aerosmith during that band’s second act, fueled by such hits as “Angel,” “(Dude) Looks Like A Lady,” “Janie’s Got A Gun” and “Love In An Elevator.” He’s played to crowds of 100,000 on multiple occasions, and appeared three times with the band on “Saturday Night Live,” he said.
Another bunch of singers will get a career highlight at the show. Foreigner has been inviting choral groups on stage to sing the chorus of “I Want To Know What Love Is,” the band’s signature hit. Roanoke radio station Q99 (WSLQ-FM, 99.1 ) ran a contest that was open to all high school choirs in its listening area, and people voted for their favorite video of the students singing. Christiansburg High School edged out William Byrd High School, according to Jaime Clark, spokeswoman for Budweiser Summer Series organizer Downtown Roanoke Inc. Foreigner is donating $500 to the Christiansburg choral program, Clark said.
Gimbel said that the band loves that part of the show.
“It’s so much fun to hear them and to see the looks on their faces,” he said. “Everybody lights up, especially [songwriter] Mick Jones. It’s a really magnificent program, and hopefully it gives them some experience if they decide to keep performing. There’s no substitute for just getting up there in front of that audience and feeling what that feels like.”