It felt like, well, the first time in some ways for Foreigner back on Oct. 6-7, 2017. And now the rest of the world is getting a chance to see what it was like.
Those two nights at the Soaring Eagle Casino Resort in Mount Pleasant, Mich., marked the largest gathering to date of Foreigner alumni — four members of the original band (founder Mick Jones, frontman Lou Gramm, multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer Dennis Elliott) along with second bassist Rick Wills — performing together for the first time since the early ’80s, as part of the group’s 40th anniversary celebration. In conjunction with Foreigner’s current lineup, the troupe played a five-song mini-set, then joined its successors for a two-song encore.
Wills voiced the thoughts of many in the crowd when he said, “It’s good to be back. We don’t believe it. You probably don’t believe it, either.”
The reunion — which has been repeated a few times since and will happen again four more times in October — was filmed and is finally getting an airing. Double Vision: Then and Now, created by award-winning producer Barry Summers of Rock Fuel Media, premieres July 19 on AT&T AUDIENCE Network (Channel 239), DIRECTV Ultra 4k (104 and 105), AT&T U-verse (1114), and streaming on DIRECTV NOW and the DIRECTV App. It will be released on CD, DVD and digital platforms in October, featuring bonus interviews and footage, such as Jones and Gramm visiting Electric Lady Studio in New York City, where they recorded Foreigner’s 4 album.
Coming in the wake of Jones’ and Gramm’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, it was a magnanimous night, both on and offstage — and especially for fans who had waited decades for the reunion to happen. As the concert finally surfaces for mass consumption, Jones spoke with Billboard about having Foreigner’s past and present collide.
These shows happened in 2017 — about time this came out, eh?
Yeah. I mean, it’s been a little while in the making, but the production of it, obviously, and a lot of paints went into it. I’m very happy with the result. I think it captures the vibe of when the two lineups played together. We had a lot of fun. I think we captured that, and it’s nice for it to be documented in this way.
What are your memories about those shows?
Y’know, I guess it was a little tentative in the beginning. (Some of the members) had already done Jones Beach at that point, so we had a little bit of a warm-up for it, but obviously nerves were high — for me, anyway — wondering how it would turn out. And I needn’t have worried at all because it turned out amazingly well. There were no crises, no bad feelings anywhere at all. It was much easier than what I anticipated it would be.
There was, of course, some acrimony back in the day as these guys left Foreigner. Were you worried about that resurfacing?
It was much easier than I anticipated it would be. I tried to sort of just clear my mind of any lingering anything, and I think Lou had done that, too. We had already re-established a little kind of smiling and warm sort of feeling. You could feel it. We were all there to do something special and make up for some things that had gone on before. There was no point in digging up any kind of old skeletons that might still be clunking around somewhere. Everything was very positive, from the word go, and any problems that might have been there were non-existent. It was done in the spirit of friendship and doing something that the original guys would restore with some pride and some feeling of involvement. The music they made at the beginning is still very relevant today, and that means a lot to them and certainly means a lot to me.
It’s very impressive how strong the older lineup sounded.
I mean, that’s what it was always like, really. And every time we’ve done it since, I kind of get transported back, almost in time. It’s weird. I was trying to explain to some of the guys in the band…it’s a feeling of being back in the same mind frame, the same appreciation of what I was playing, as I had all those years ago. I really got transported back during several songs, and I came off stage and even felt rejuvenated, I would say, bopping along and happy. It was an experience in that way, too. I really had a lot of fun playing with the original members of the band. The songs are still the songs, and I think they were very well represented by both the original and the current bands.
The current group seemed to be as into the reunion as the fans were.
Oh yeah, definitely. They’d only heard stories about each other, really. Everybody was very excited to be playing together, and it jelled really well. I really loved the sound of it.
You’re doing four more shows during October with the original guys. Is there any chance of a full tour like that?
We’re doing it on a limited basis, really. I think one or two of the guys don’t really relish the thought of (touring); They lead a different lifestyle these days. But I’ve definitely thought about it, especially when we’ve been on stage and seeing the reaction of the crowd. So it’s not something I’m ruling out. It’s just something we haven’t caught up with yet.
Does the current Foreigner have any new music plans?
We’re messing around, actually, on the road. We’ve been listening to stuff, working on a few ideas, a couple of things that date back quite a long way, before the new band, while Lou and I were still communicating. There’s a couple of those ideas and a couple of new ideas I’m working on. We’ve been working on ProTools in the hotel rooms and stuff like that. So it’s cooking. I’d like to put some new material out, definitely. I’m not sure about doing an album these days, but we’ll see.
Among many anniversaries, it’s 35 years since Foreigner released “I Want to Know What Love Is.” What’s your 2019 perspective on that song?
It’s significant, you know? It’s one of my favorites. There was sadness in that song, some really private personal pieces of my story in there, let’s say. And it’s representative of a period that started to get a little weird between Lou and I. And it did cause some friction because we were changing directions and getting softer, going more towards synth-laden tracks. But it did work. And it remains…I feel strongly that a lot of people benefitted from it. People dedicate it or use it in things like weddings. And you can see when we play the song, people get transported into some zone a little bit and everybody is hugging each other at the end. It’s a peacemaker.