Foreigner: The Hits Unplugged

October 30, 2016
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
Cerritos, CA

Review by Shawn Perry

It’s one thing to see Foreigner going full bore on an arena stage, and it’s another to see six of the seven members sitting on stools with acoustic instruments in an intimate theater like the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. I’d seen Peter Frampton and Kansas in the same room years ago, but rock is a rarity at a venue that typically hosts plays, musicals and Donny and Marie concerts. What fans experienced was a band in its most purist, rawest form, playing classic songs without the distortion, crash, boom and bang of an electric ensemble. It was a night light on volume, but heavy with intensity.

The surroundings were subtle and bright for an early Sunday concert. The lights lowered on a bare-bones stage with stools, instruments and five vertical banners united as a simple backdrop that changed colors. A little after 7:00, the members of Foreigner took their places, and with little else to go on, fell into “Double Vision.” Without the punchy power chords that begin the song, the intro was a little less intrusive. Once it snuck into the verse, singer Kelly Hansen took in from there and that familiar chorus rang out.

Foreigner may down to one original member — leader and guitarist Mick Jones — but the songs are really what the band is all about. As much as Lou Gramm gave to Foreigner, the fact of the matter is he hasn’t been the band’s front man for over 10 years. Hansen has the pipes and presence to assertively claim the spot, as he took command of each Foreigner hit rolled out — “Long, Long Way From Home,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Cold As Ice,” “Feels Like The First Time,” “Jukebox Heroes” and “Hot Blooded” — and delivered a superlative vocal.

Bassist Jeff Pilson, who made his name as an original member of Dokken and joined Foreigner in 2004, not only supplied the night with some much needed bottom end, but also stood out on the background vocals, hitting those high harmonies. Sitting at stage-right of Jones was clutch player Bruce Watson, who handled a lot of guitar parts the boss didn’t play, and embellished some of the night’s songs with banjo, dulcimer, mandolin and slide guitar. To fill out the sound, Thom Gimbel tooted on his sax and played acoustic guitar, while keyboardist Michael Bluestein tickled the ivories on a stand-up piano.

Hearing the hits acoustically certainly put a new spin on the music. To make it even more intriguing, non-hits like “The Flame Still Burns,” a song Jones wrote for the film Still Crazy, and “Girl On The Moon,” a deep track on 1981’s 4 album were worked in. A song recorded by most of Foreigner’s present lineup, “When It Comes To Love,” from 2009’s Can’t Slow Down was also included, as well as a campy run-through of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right. Announcements that the band was celebrating their 40th Anniversary added anticipation for the grand finale, “I Want To Know What Love Is.”

As is customary, the band invited a local group of kids to sing the song’s epic chorus. That got Hansen off his stool and out front, encouraging the audience to stand and join in. The crowd had been singing all night, but there’s something about this song that tugs at the heart strings and makes people want to be a part of it. And almost as soon as it felt like it had begun, the song was done and the show was over. Can’t think of a better way to cap off a Sunday.

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