Foreigner and the Trouble With Second-String Band Members
Courtesy the artist
With extremely low expectations, I made my way into the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Saturday night to catch a trio of acts that saw their best days nearly four decades ago: Foreigner, Styx and Don Felder, of Eagles fame. For the two co-headliners, it was a case of replacement members and set lists that (not surprisingly) concentrated on hits from the late '70s and early '80s.
First up was former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. Even though he's not on speaking terms with his former bandmates Don Henley or Glen Frey, Felder is not shy about performing those Eagles' chestnuts. "Witchy Woman," "Life in the Fast Lane," and "Heartache Tonight" were all performed with professionalism and power. Indeed, Felder's youthful backing band added some much-needed oomph to the proceedings. Styx's Tommy Shaw even came on stage to sing and play on the set-ending "Hotel California." All in all, it was a pretty good display of guitar playing in what turned out to be the best music of the evening.
Interestingly, Styx actually mixed in a couple of deep album cuts during the band's 12-song set. Granted, songs such as "Light Up," "Crystal Ball" and "Superstars" didn't connect as well to the older (but still feisty) audience. But once Styx cranked out "Come Sail Away" and "Renegade," things got to a fever pitch in short order. Since founding member Dennis DeYoung no longer performs with Styx, his replacement Lawrence Gowan had the unenviable job of singing those high notes on "Lady." To his credit, the talented Gowan has integrated himself into Styx quite well and the crowd certainly embraces him. Replacement player or not, Gowan gets a good share of the spotlight, even soloing during the extended intro to the aforementioned "Come Sail Away."
Thankfully, Styx did not play either "Babe" or "Mr. Roboto," two of the band's most annoying hits. Older fare such as "The Grand Illusion" and "Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)" were much wiser selections.
Tommy Shaw and the rest of Styx were engaged and energetic throughout the set. Certainly, the band's progressive rock hasn't translated all that well over the years, but give Styx credit for not changing a damn thing. The keyboard work is still super cheesy as are most of the lyrics. But the songs themselves are fairly catchy and Styx delivers them with nearly the same vigor as back in the day.
Foreigner closed the festivities with a ten-song set that consisted of nine hits and one deep cut (the relatively pedestrian "Starrider"). Seeing that the band contains only a single original member (guitarist Mick Jones), it's a difficult proposition to see this version of Foreigner as anything other than a cover act. Most of the other members are 15 to 20 years younger than Jones and singer Kelly Hansen does not sound anything like original singer Lou Gramm. What's left is a talented group of musicians, led by Jones, who play some memorable hard rock.
But even back in the day, songs like "Double Vision," "Cold as Ice" and "Feels Like the First Time" were considered fairly mindless, radio-friendly fare. And these same songs have not garnered any intellectual weight over the years. The crowd, however, didn't seem to mind as many hollered and jumped around, gleeful to just hear the songs of their youth.
Of course, Foreigner did the band's absolute worst song: the syrupy ballad "I Want to Know What Love Is." For many, this might sadly be the only Foreigner song they know. Much better was "Juke Box Hero" and the set-closing "Hot Blooded."
By night's end, it was over three hours of classic rock from another era. Judging by the large crowd in attendance, this music is still capable of stirring up some glorious high school memories. But there may have been a few like me, folks who wouldn't have minded a few more original members.