Foreigner with Styx and Kansas
7 p.m. Friday
2101 N.E. 50th
Is there life after death? Ask Foreigner, because it’s probably come the closest to finding out. After establishing itself as arguably the mightiest arena-rock act of the late ’70s and early ’80s, its descent was precipitous.
Following four albums, each bigger than the last, 1984’s concept album, “Agent Provocateur,” started the slide. Although it produced the chart-topping ballad, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” the disc was among the act’s worst-selling. The follow-up, 1987’s “Inside Information,” was even less successful.
That same year, front man Lou Gramm inaugurated his solo career and landed a Top 10 single with “Midnight Blue.” Finally, fueled by increasing conflict with co-founding guitarist/songwriter Mick Jones, Gramm split from Foreigner in 1991, starting the short-lived Shadow King.
Jones brought in a new singer, but eventually reunited with Gramm. However, 1994’s disappointing “Mr. Moonlight” barely charted and seemed to consign the band to the county festival and nostalgia-retread circuit, where it toured with other ’80s has-beens like Def Leppard, Styx and Journey. When Gramm left for good in 2003, it took more than a year before Jones decided to reform the group.
“In the year 2000, I did a movie with Jason Bonham (son of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) called ‘Rock Star.’ In 2004, Jason was working with Foreigner founder Mick Jones, and he talked Mick into revamping Foreigner,” said former Dokken/Dio bassist Jeff Pilson, who was brought aboard to play Foreigner’s comeback show in California. “Jason knew that we had terrific chemistry and work great together, so he suggested me. He called up, the chemistry was great, and here I am today.”
Of course, “here” is a markedly different place than Pilson might’ve imagined. It was 10 months between that first gig and Foreigner’s next show, during which time the band brought in former Hurricane singer Kelly Hansen. A charismatic, energetic vocalist who’s capable of sounding a lot like Gramm, Hansen’s been integral to Foreigner’s rebirth.
“He brings great singing and is a great front man every single night,” Pilson said. “You’re really only as strong as your front man, and he is as strong as they come. He makes all the difference in the world, and I think it’s given Foreigner a new lease on life.”
Pilson was originally told the band would mostly be doing weekend gigs, but over the last few years, it’s evolved into a 150-shows-a-year project. The full-time commitment began in earnest in 2008, when Foreigner released its greatest-hits anthology, “No End in Sight,” whose sole new track, “Too Late,” proved a minor hit.
Last October, the band released its first new album in 15 years, “Can’t Slow Down,” which took the group into Billboard’s Top 30 for the first time in two decades. The musicians had been so busy with touring, much of the disc was recorded in their hotel rooms and the back of the tour bus, but that didn’t slacken their passion.
“That song (‘Too Late’) really got Mick’s juices really flowing and ready to go for another record,” Pilson said. “Mick and Kelly along with our producer, Marti Frederiksen, wrote almost all the material ” some was done with other outside writers ” but most of it was done by the three of them in some sessions that spanned a relatively short amount of time. Even though the process was several months long, they got into a real hot streak, and that’s when a lot of it got written.”
“Can’t Slow Down” is a like a trip back in time, recapturing the band’s blend of power-chord ballads and sugary, hook-lined hard rock. Radio has been kind this time around, and the group got another boost from the video games “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero,” which used several of its songs, exposing Foreigner to another generation.
“That’s brought us into a whole new audience,” Pilson said. “I’m seeing young kids at the shows,which I never thought I’d see.”
The whole experience is particularly gratifying, given the limited expectations he went into the project with, and the energy the band has for re-igniting fans’ passions and their own popularity.
“There are people out there that really follow the band, and that love the music, so the hard work is starting to pay off. I’m not shocked, but, boy, am I pleased,” he said.
It’s not often an act this far gone returns to the spotlight, and Pilson appreciates the acclaim on several levels. He loves his bandmates and believes they share a special bond, but even more, he acknowledges the benefit of a great song catalog.
“It’s not just only a great bunch of people ” it’s great music. Foreigner had 16 Top 30 songs,” he said. “When you have that to pick from, it’s like cheating when you’re doing your set list.” “Chris Parker