Foreigner’s hit-loaded shows the strength of classic rock

Published on March 24th, 2021

By Jim Dail

The songs of Foreigner have stood the test of time. Their chart success has been incredible, with 16 Top 30 songs in their career. Their concerts continue to sell out all over the world, and their show of hits comes to Pala Casino on Thursday, June 13.

Songs like “Hot Blooded,” “Feels like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice,” “Double Vision,” “Urgent,” “Dirty White Boy” are part of the classic rock empire, while ballads such as “Waiting for a Girl like You” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” showcased a softer side of the band.

“We have so many classic songs that they fill the set list by themselves,” said lead singer Kelly Hansen. “It’s a good problem to have. There are songs we did over the years like ‘Woman in Black’ and ‘That was Yesterday,’ but which songs do you take out. We don’t even do ‘I Don’t Want to Live without You,’ which was a hit but you can’t put three ballads in the show.”

Hansen has a huge appreciation for the catalog, the band and leader Mick Jones.

“These songs are a testament to the songs because you can do them acoustically and they hold up, but also more than one person can sing them,” said Hansen. “And not only can you recognize the songs, but there’s a huge variety of approaches that have to be made when singing them. A song like “Waiting” is a tender thing compared to the hardness of ‘Juke Box’ or ‘Hot Blooded.’

And those songs are the genius of guitarist/keyboardist/band founder Mick Jones.

“I’ve often said he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves,” he said. “He is in the Songwiter’s Hall of Fame, which is a great honor because that’s your peers saying you have done an exemplary thing. He’s done such amazing riffs and solos that blow your mind and hasn’t got the recognition he should.”

And the songs, while being immensely popular, feature great lyrics and structure.

“One of the things that is not focused on as much in popular music is the arrangements and the intricate parts,” Hansen said. “It’s not just power chords, but it is layering. Your brain is going at full blast and you have the access to the best stuff and you are allowed to go full force because you can go to the extreme of creativity.”

Hansen grew up in Southern California, singing at an early age.

“I was singing professionally when Foreigner originally came out, and I was aware of the band and the production and songwriting because they were a top notch band,” he said. “Back in the day, all kinds of music from Kool and the Gang to Foreigner was on the same radio station, so your ear wouldn’t get tired of the same old thing over and over.”

As a singer in a band, he was getting plenty of experience singing a range of music.

“My first band, we did originals and covers, a wide arrange of music from Porgy and Bess to the latest thing on the radio,” he said.  “It was a great learning ground for me being able to do combat rock where no matter the circumstances, no matter if someone is doing something wrong, the show must go on. Mick has the same mindset.”

Hansen is very cognizant of the impact the songs and performances have on the audience, many of whom look at the songs in a nostalgic way.

“There are a lot of factors when it comes to hearing a song, and if you were at that moment in time where songs on the radio coincided with important events then they are going to have more meaning,” he said. “People come to me telling me what the songs meant to them, but if you included them all then you would have a 4-hour show.”

The band has been creative at ways to get other songs into the show that aren’t the big hits. In some cases, it is an acoustic set during part of the show, while other times it is a bit of audience participation.

“Last year, during a section of the show, I gave the audience a choice of 3 songs,” he said. “I let them pick from “Headknocker,” “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” and “That was Yesterday,” and the one they wanted the most we played. Which one we do really is a bearing on where we are playing.”

In talking to Hansen, it is clear that he not only likes what he is doing – and is grateful to be able to do it – but he loves, absolutely loves the songs.

“If you are a guy who sings for a living, where every song everyone knows and each one is challenging in its own way, that is a wonderful thing to not be bored,” he said. “And when you put in the blender the ambiance, whether indoor, outdoor, giant stadiums or small ones, the way the audience and the band are percolating means that it will be a different experience each night.”

Part of that experience involves plenty of hard work, but also being one with the audience,

“Over my long career I’ve learned a few things, like how to read an audience, how to build a show up so it becomes an experience ending with a climax of the show,” he said. “It is part solo effort and part group effort, and everyone in Foreigner has been around the block so you have to have the energy each night and the determination to play with the audience. I want this show to be a massively wonderful show every night.”

While the bands musical chops are outstanding, it’s not just about recreating the records.

“The purpose of us playing live is to put an entertainment show on, not for us to play verbatim,” he said. “Our job is to put on an entertaining show, so people go away happy knowing they got to escape and they got to break out of themselves for a little while.”

A final goal is to, of course, keep the music alive.

“We are on a constant quest to connect the songs to foreigner because sometimes people group things together,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know which band did which songs, so a lot of people think some of our songs might be REO or Styx.”

But there’s little doubt that the music is still alive.

“I see and hear Foreigner songs everywhere!” he said.


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