Considering founder member Mick Jones was born down the road in the small town of Somerton, it’s surprising that Foreigner have never played Bristol. Basically, it’s been a long wait, and to paraphrase “Juke Box Hero” – it’s a sold out show.
Before the main course however, we have what can only be described as a couple of very tasty appetizers. First up are FM, taking to the stage before 7pm and as a consequence missing a fair chunk of audience. In fairness, as they plough through their six song set the hall gets busier and busier. Down at the front there’s a young lad of about 10 in an FM shirt with his Dad, who spends the whole set with his fingers in his ears, proving that they just don’t build them like they used to. Perhaps Dad will buy him some ear plugs next time. Even though they are below two AOR legends, FM once again prove that they have nothing to fear from the big boys, and by the end of their set there’s plenty of people cheering loudly to back that up. The set list covers their history as well as it could with such a short run time, with fluffy classic “I Belong To The Night” and “That Girl” meeting “Crosstown Train” and “Tough Love” via “Closer To Heaven” and set closer “Burning My Heart Down”. Much like Thunder supporting Whitesnake and Journey, FM are the little band that could, bringing what would normally be seen as a disproportionate number of fans for a support act and, as usual, playing a faultless set. Throw into the mix the fact that every one of them seems to be having the time of their lives up there and you have the perfect start to the evening.
I first saw Europe way back in 1987. Joey Tempest and his boys were touring on the back of their most successful album, a little thing called “The Final Countdown”. Despite the parping and preening of the time, their longevity has been helped by a reinvention of their sound, meaning that today’s Europe is a harder beast. The main focus, naturally, is on frontman Joey Tempest, who looks fit as a fiddle, twirling his microphone stand and bouncing around like a teenager. I get the feeling that he is a little like Dorian Gray, with a portrait that gets older as he stays the same, only in Joey’s case the portrait has escaped the attic and is fronting Magnum. He’s a photographer’s dream, posing at every opportunity and generally being Mr Rock Star without seeming at all cocky or arrogant, which is quite a good trick. The rest of the band, however, are certainly on the stage but show very little emotion between them. Guitarist John Norum, for example, performs his duties with aplomb, but stays rooted to the spot, barely acknowledging the happy crowd.
The set is a pretty good one, kicking off with “Riches To Rags” from their most recent “Bag Of Bones” album, followed by the energetic “Firebox” from the same album. There’s a strange moment in the middle of “Superstitious”, where they launch into “No Woman No Cry”, but it’s quickly forgiven. Even though I like the gritty modern Europe, I can’t be alone in my love for the old stuff, so my enjoyment level goes up a notch as the band do a few of the songs I first heard back in 1985. “Carrie” is soppy as ever, but the real treats are “Cherokee” and “Rock The Night”, which really get the crowd going (although not on their feet, as this is a rather sedate, seated gig). Joey Tempest still has an excellent voice, although he seems to be using a halting delivery that is either protecting a sore throat or just as likely designed to stop one. The rest of the band are understandably tight, but rather anonymous, and it’s a good job they have JT to keep people entertained. Of course, they have to finish with “that” song, and it goes down brilliantly. A good, solid set from the Swedes, but somehow overshadowed by the energy and enjoyment of the openers.
And so to the main course, and the debut of Foreigner in Bristol. My first thought is that it’s nice to see an actual stage set, as so many bands these days just have a banner. Foreigner’s is a bit Vegas nightclub, but it does look nice and lends an air of authority to proceedings. We were aware that founder member Mick Jones would not be appearing for the first four songs, which we presume is due to health issues (he missed gigs on the U.S tour), and this brings up a question. They say that if a tree falls in a forest and no one hear sit, does it make a sound? How about if we see Foreigner and Mick Jones isn’t there, is it now a tribute act? It’s a thorny question, but one that soon becomes moot as the band kick off with “Double Vision”, “Head Games” and “Cold As Ice”. After only having seen him at festivals, I have to say that vocalist Kelly Hansen is a revelation. His vocals are crisp, his stage moves acrobatic and entertaining, and his audience patter relaxed and amusing. Quite simply, he is one of the best frontmen I have ever seen. Filling in for Jones is Bruce Watson, who sure can play a mean guitar (even if he looks like he got dragged out of a Christian rock group), and who, along with the rest of the band, really puts his all into it.
When Jones appears for “Feels Like The First Time” (introduced by Hansen as “The Bristol Pistol”) there’s a bit of a gasp, a no few chuckles, as he’s decked out like an Elvis impersonator who’s forgotten his wig. My immediate thought is “Nurse – he’s out of bed again”, but once the man gets going it’s clear that the old Mick Jones is still alive and kicking. Lead guitar duties are duly handed over (as well as occasional keyboard ones), and Jones pulls off some superb stuff for the rest of the night, not to mention his usual vocals for half of oldie “Starrider”. Special mention must also go to long term member Thom Gimbel, who comes alive when he ditches his rhythm guitar for a saxophone or flute – truly a gifted instrumentalist. The only downer is the keyboard and drum solo section, at which point most people sit down again (Hansen made sure to bully everyone into standing up straight away). Nothing wrong with keyboard player Michael Bluestein or drummer Chris Frazier (although the former does look like he’s playing at his own Bar Mitzvah), but we would all, I feel, rather have had another song, such as “Can’t Slow Down” or something. Aside from the solos, it’s a straightforward greatest hits set, but when it’s done this well it’s so enjoyable you don’t miss “Stranger In My own House” or “Blue Morning, Blue Day”, because this is a masterclass, and that’s not to be sniffed at.
FM - Tough Love, I Belong To the Night, Closer To Heaven, That Girl, Crosstown Train, Burning My Heart Down
Europe: Riches To rags, Firebox, Superstitious, Let The Good Times Rock, Girl From Lebanon, Carrie, Sign On The Times, Cherokee, Rock the Night, Last Look At Eden, The Final Countdown
Foreigner: Double Vision, head Games, Cold As Ice, Waiting For A Girl Like You, Feels Like The First Time, That Was Yesterday, Dirty WHite Boy, Starrider, Urgent, Juke Box Hero, Long Long Way From Home, I Want To Know What Love Is, Hot Blooded
Review by Alan Holloway
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