As the original members of Foreigner trooped onstage Friday night (Oct. 6) at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Hotel in Michigan, somebody had to say it: Bassist Rick Wills stepped up as he told an ebullient crowd — chanting “Louuuuu” for returning frontman Lou Gramm — “It feels like the first time.”
Foreigner present and past were united for the first of two weekend concerts, the final U.S. dates of the group’s 40th anniversary tour, with tapes and cameras rolling for a live album, home video and broadcast production set for 2018.
For fans, it felt like something entirely different, a salute to the long-lived band’s hit-filled heritage over the course of 18 songs. Founder Mick Jones’ present lineup started things with a 70-minute set that included a cameo by Gramm for an acoustic version of “Fool For You Anyway” and a titanic rendition of “Juke Box Hero” that was introduced by a bit of the 1978 instrumental “Tramontane,” which current keyboardist Michael Bluestein dedicated to his predecessor Al Greenwood.
The marquee part of the night, however, came as Jones, Gramm and Greenwood were joined by fellow original members Dennis Elliott on drums and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, as well as Wills, Foreigner’s second bassist. There have been previous reunions this year — in Florida, Spain and at Jones Beach in New York — but this marked the first time all of the musicians were together onstage at the same time.
“It’s good to be back,” Wills told the crowd. “We don’t believe it. You probably don’t believe it, either.”
The sextet’s five-song mini-set was certainly convincing, however. With Gramm in strong voice, they worked their way through a tightly rendered mini-set that included “Feels Like the First Time” — which Jones dedicated to late original bassist Ed Gagliardi — along with “Double Vision,” “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” “Long Long Way From Home” and “Dirty White Boy,” while both lineups, 12 musicians in total, played encore versions of “I Want to Know What Love Is” and a lusty “Hot Blooded.”
Prior to the concert, Jones told Billboard that a more full-scale Foreigner reunion was inevitable. “When we did the show in New York at Jones Beach, it was such a fabulous evening, we figured, ‘Well, why don’t we do this a few more times?'” he said. “We just really had fun that night. It was exciting, and everybody was in great shape and ready to nail it, and it was a bit of an eye-opener, actually, how tight it was with everybody.”
Current frontman Kelly Hansen added, “It’s been really fabulous, and at moments it’s starting to dawn on me that we’re doing something incredibly unique and to be onstage with these guys is such a great thing. Everyone is just so joyful and fun and having a good time, and any trepidation I might have had or thoughts about issues just went completely out the window. It’s a glorious thing, really.”
Gramm noted about the new Foreigner, “I think the guys are great. They made us feel very welcome and no attitudes or anything. It really felt like we all belonged onstage.”
Current bassist Jeff Pilson said the reason for that is simple: “We’re all Foreigner fans. We want it to be great, and we want it to reflect the legacy. The camaraderie is unbelievable, and everybody has a lot of love for Mick Jones’ vision and for the legacy, and you can feel it when we’re up there.”
If Jones has his way, there will be more reunion shows in 2018, and perhaps even beyond.
“I think this has been a bit of a testing ground to see how we are together and see if we feel that it’s something we should carry on, and I think everybody’s pointing towards some more events like this,” he said. “Who knows where we’ll pop up.”
No release date has been announced for the Soaring Eagle recording yet.
The current Foreigner has a run of Canadian dates starting Tuesday (Oct. 10) in Calgary, while a Foreigner With the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra album and PBS special are in the works for 2018.