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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Foreigner (Live Review By Nick)

Foreigner, Joanne Shaw Taylor & John Parr, Birmingham Symphony Hall

After seeing Foreigner blow away the entire of what was the LG arena 5 years ago while supporting Journey, it was our mission to see these gents headline and do their thing live again. Missing a chance two years ago, with the added carrot of Joanne Shaw Taylor this time, we jumped on the opportunity and made the Journey up the M50 to Birmingham.

As we were distracted by a few pubs that offered us food and ale; Matt and I rocked up into the Symphony Hall at the end of opening act; an acoustic set from John Parr, just in time to hear him tell the story behind and perform the song that gained him his fame; St Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion) Clearly efficient on the guitar Parr was able to offer good layers to his performance that was unfortunately let down by his obviously wavering and strained voice, there was nothing wrong with the tune here as most notes were hit, however throughout the song it cracked on multiple occasions which was disappointing to hear. Nonetheless he left the stage to a solid applause from the half filled hall.

A brief break and soon we were treated to the wizardry of Joanne Shaw Taylor (8) and her crew. Having listened to a few of her albums I have always been impressed by what I've heard, being a staunch fan of the raspy vocals in general I have appreciated her from the second I heard her, this however was my first chance to see her perform live. Wandering onto the stage Taylor and her band dressed in their casuals proceeded to rattle through a six song set that at offered a plethora of rhythms, pace and range of vocals from Taylor. You would be forgiven to think that Taylors vocals came at a price of strain and effort at times when listening to her albums, but live it is clear to see that her voice is delivered with ease and passion.

Taylor clearly loves the music she sings and is on a mission to get her bluesy style out there for more people to behold, underlined by the staggering amount of touring she does. However there seemed to be something missing from this set, all apart from bassist superbly named Luigi Casanova were very much static throughout which gave me the feeling that as this wasn't a headline set there wasn't as much desire in the entire of the performance. As a result I struggled to get fully focused. All this aside, the voice of Taylor and here evident high quality skills on her guitar were obvious to see and a joy to behold at times; as she strangled the neck and frets to produce sounds that complimented her voice and style perfectly. I'd love to see this lady again headlining, possibly in a smaller venue where she can commit to the entire performance, as I could clearly see JST has it all despite not firing on all cylinders tonight.

As the light lit over a dark stage Kelly Hansen jumped down from the raised platform centre stage and immediately broke into Double Vision, showing the energy and enthusiasm that trade marks Hansen he buzzed about the stage energizing both the crowd and band mates alike, most people sat around us singing along, this was to be a night of hits presented from Foreigner (8). With little gap the band swept straight into Head Games and Cold As Ice; both delivered with great gusto and from the flawless vocals of Hansen, who in my eyes, is one of the finest vocalists around in any genre. Chris Fraizers drums also stood out for me here, his no holding back he hit every beat as hard as you can not matter the song, old school type drumming really added to the occasion. 

A brief break as Hansen warmed the crowd further, then a bit (maybe too much) back tapping, followed by a quick introduction/welcoming of the man that started the era of Foreigner: Mick Jones onto the stage (not sure where he'd been hiding, Matt and I had come to the conclusion he was ill at the beginning of the set) also to one of the band biggest hits Waiting For A Girl Like You. With the light keys from Michael Bluestien and the slow deep bass courtesy of Jeff Pilson, both complimenting the magical voice of Hansen that did not waver throughout the set, this was a pure beauty to behold. The entire room broke out in song and united to celebrate this piece of the bands history.

After a rapturous applause following this great hit the band showed no sign of slowing down with another two classics consisting of That Was Yesterday and Dirty White Boy, the band continues to buzz around the stage with great passion as if they hadn't been performing these songs for decades. During these songs, and many other's a gaggle of women all along the front row were constantly reaching out and grabbing Hansen's legs, thigh and bottom; at times I thought... what if that was the other way around? Anyway, this didn't seem to phase Hansen too much as he was able to shake off the majority of women with relative ease. 

Next my favourite Foreigner song and probably the most layered of them all. With bouncing drums, bass and guitar from the band and smooth Sax gifted to us from Tom Gimbel; Urgent lit up the stage, band and crowd alike... there has always been something about this song that has put a smile on my face and never fails to lift my spirits, it was clear to see everyone was of the same opinion. Urgent was delivered with the energy and effort which the song deserves, this was a cracker!

After the great set so far and the build to a perfect performance of Urgent, we were then hit in the nads with a very disappointing medley of keyboard drum and them keyboard/drum solos that completely ruined the pace of the set, lasting at least ten minutes these solos weren't even that impressive and represented a bit of a downer for me. Thankfully the band then broke out another bouncy hit in Juke Box Hero following these and were able to just about save the mood and energy of the crowd before it was too late... after briefly leaving the stage to return for an encore consisting of Long Long Way From Home, I Want To Know What Love Is and the sensational Hot Blooded; all of which were performed with the love and feeling we had come to expect in this set. Hansen's voice again showing how he is the ideal replacement for singer Lou Gramm while effortlessly singing I Want To Know What Love Is, with the backing of local school choir which I thought was a nice touch.

Overall I Foreigner were as good as I remember them form when I last saw them, the energy, passion and love for their music is unquestionable and that can be said for their fans too. I'm not sure you will get a poor performance from this band for many a year to come as this business just seems to run through their veins. With a front man of the quality of Kelly Hansen and the experience of Mick Jones too, I think they will be around for a fair time yet. Despite all this the two big marks on the evening that made it fall short of my previous experience were the medley of solos... as a rule these are not needed in any gig from any band, especially in the case of Foreigner. With such a bulging history of hits this time could easily have been used to offer at least two more songs, maybe even some of their more recent offerings such as In Pieces which is in my eyes one of their best and has right to be in a set with the above songs. It perplexes me as to why bands do this time after time. 

The second mark was the choice of venue, I am a massive fan of the Symphony Hall and the perfect acoustics it offers to the crowd. However, I couldn't help but feel that the crowd were shackled to their seats and were trapped at times. A band like Foreigner have so many hits that make you want to stand and move, break shapes... whatever you wish to call it, but we couldn't do that here. At times I sensed the frustration from some of the crowd at not being able to do this, and I also felt a little sorry for Hansen, he transfers do much energy to the crowd and they were unable to reciprocate on the same level. If they return... a standing venue would be much more suited to these rockers. I take nothing away from the performance of the band as it was almost flawless but if I'm considering the experience as a whole it reflects my score.

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