Tuesday night at the Nebraska State Fair, we went to see the third of their free concert series, Foreigner. Held in the outdoor amphitheater, the free shows are being used to draw people to the fair which has struggled in recent years. And based on the huge crowd for Tuesday's show -- the theater was jam packed, and the fire marshall came through several times to make sure paths were clear -- its succeeding, at least in getting people in the door. I'd peg the crowd, conservatively, at 2000 people. It could easily have been more, but from our vantage point in the SECOND ROW, it was kind of difficult to gauge.
The first thing you need to know about how adequately prepared to rock we were is Continental showed up wearing a vintage Def Leppard tour shirt from I think the Adrenalyze tour in '92. And Dick had a ZOSO shirt from Zeppelin that he'd bought at Page/Plant in '98. I of course had on the Cobra Kai shirt. Ready to rock.
Upon arriving in Lincoln, we stopped at a Kwik Mart to pick up some beer to shotgun in the parking lot -- knowing the price we would pay for beer inside the fair, getting a buzz going before entering would be a lot cheaper. So after parking, we sat on the tailgate of The Colorado, drinking 24-oz beers. Dick and Continental opted for Miller High Life, The Champaigne Of Beers. I went with Bud Light. We shotgunned the beers in five minutes, and went into the fair.
We wandered over to the theater, and while we debated whether to sit in the audience or stand in the back, we noticed there was a few people standing just behind the VIPs. There was a VIP section roped off, probably from the stage to about 15 feet back. And we just went there, and stood maybe 20 feet away for the whole show. We talked to the security guard, a wonderfully nice gentleman who had an impossible job, and that came in handy when the fire marshall tried to make us move. The guard made everyone behind us move elsewhere, but let us stay. Good people, that guy.
Lots of people in Agent Provocateur shirts from '84, lots of mullets, and even some Foreigner 4 shirts -- vintage, not the shoddy remakes they were selling at the tour shop. People, you don't wear the t-shirt of the band you're seeing to the show. Unless you bought it that night, you just don't do that. Its incredibly bad form, not to mention you look like a damn fool. I mean, wearing Def Leppard to a Foreigner show, cool. Wearing an Agent Provocateur shirt, not so much.
As the crowd starting chanting for them to take the stage (For-eh-ner! For-eh-ner!) Continental and I started chanting (Lou-oo-Gramm! Lou-oo-Gramm!). This Continental the ire of several people around us, which was sorta the point.
The band Foreigner only has one original member, Mick Jones. However, Jones composed and produced almost all of their music, and founded the band, so if you're gonna only have one guy, he's the one. To replace the departed Lou Gramm, Jones recruited former Hurricane vocalist Kelly Hanson, who is a bit younger than Jones and brings energy to the stage that an aging Gramm would be hard pressed to beat. Next they brought in drummer Jason Bonham, who plays a lot like his dad, Bonzo. Bonham is joined by former Dokken and Dio bassist Jeff Pilson; keyboardist Jeff Jacobs and guitarist/saxophonist Tom Gimbel. Jacobs and Gimbal are not original members, but have been with the band since the early '80s.
Would the show have been better if Lou Gramm was still singing? Maybe. But good music is good music. And if you can perform a two-hour show consisting almost entirely of Top 40 hits, with a gusto, bravado and musical showmanship that few of today's darlings of the music critics can top? That's a winning formula there, folks. Will the Killers be playing a show to thousands of fans 20 years from now, with two hours of hits? Jet? Franz Ferdinand? Will they be playing, period? I don't know. What I do know is Foreigner still is, and if Tuesday's blistering performance is any indication, they still have some rock in the tank.
They opened the show with "Long, Long Way From Home", a great song that was mysteriously absent from their new greatest hits album. And from there, the hits came fast and furious (in no particular order):
Cold as Ice
Feels Like the First Time
Urgent / Whole Lotta Love (Zeppelin Cover)
Waiting For A
Dirty White Boy
They closed the show with "Juke Box Hero", a song that had the audience in a frenzy. The band dragged it out to nearly 10 minutes, with a long extended guitar solo from Jones in the middle that was incredible.
After a short break, they returned and Bonham began playing a drum solo, seemingly channeling the spirit of his father. One by one the other members appeared, slowly joining the solo until they all were back on stage, and the solo segued into "Misty Mountain Hop", a cover of the old Zeppelin classic. A nice tribute to Bonham's dad, who died 25 years ago, and an inspired choice as well. Instead of playing a big hit, or even something like Heartbreaker, they strayed into the Zep catalog for a crowd pleasing rocker.
Then they busted out the inevitable "I Want To Know What Love Is". I turned to Continental and proclaimed "I'm singing every damn word, and you can't stop me." The entire crowd did, actually, so I wasn't alone. There's something communal, special, that you get from several thousand people all singing the chorus together, and the lead singer giving up and simply pointing the mic into the crowd. You don't get that at a Killers concert, people.
That seemed to be a fitting end. Only they hadn't played their biggest hit. Just when it seemed they were going to leave us hanging, Jones picked back up his electric guitar and hit the opening chords of "Hot Blooded" and the place exploded. If that's not one of the greatest songs ever written, then I'm missing something. Just great, great stuff.
My measure of a huge band is this: if you can open your show with one of your biggest hits, because you've got enough of 'em to go around, you're great. Like the Eagles. They OPEN with Hotel California, which any other band would use as an encore. Its almost as though they're saying, you know what bitch, we got 30 more hits and we'll be here all night. Similarly, Foreigner opens with an triple-assault of Long Long Way From Home, Head Games and Double Vision.
Two hours, almost entirely consisting of huge Top 40 hits. Top that.