4th of July weekends are usually spent with a repertoire of predictable events: patriotism, BBQs (alcohol optional, but encouraged), fireworks…just to name a few. What about music? No good social gathering is complete without a soundtrack to go with it and it doesn’t get much more American than classic rock. We’re not talking about pressing play on your Spotify account. How about the opportunity to see one of the best classic rock bands perform live? For Bay Area concert goers, there was only one place to be this weekend: Saratoga’s very own Mountain Winery, to commemorate Foreigner’s 40th Year Anniversary tour.
It isn’t every day one can brag about getting to see the works of Songwriting Hall Of Famers. Foreigner’s songs helped shape multiple generations — their singles, such as “Double Vision,” “Jukebox Hero,” “I Want To Know What Love Is,” and more, are world-renowned and we guarantee that at least one Foreigner hit is present in the back pocket of those who take the stage on karaoke night.
Let’s take a second to gush about the venue in and of itself — this was my first time attending a show at the Mountain Winery (and wow, what an unforgettable first). The drive towards the venue is one I have taken many times, always passing the turn off and never knowing that’swhere this highly-talked about venue is located, nestled off and hidden up above the Bay. I was excited to finally experience the Mountain Winery and none of the stories I had heard did this venue any justice. The Winery is absolutely gorgeous, the stone-paved trails, walking through the rows of grapevines, the view and of course the concert bowl, built back in 1958 with it’s Spanish-style architecture providing a breathtaking backdrop worthy of performers such as Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and of course, Foreigner.
There is only a short intermission between bands. When an act has been around since the ‘70s and has as many beloved tracks as Foreigner, there is no need for any gimmicks or special effects to overpower the stage. The Winery sets the mood with a playlist featuring Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and other classic 1970s and ‘80s rock hits.
The lights on stage dim in unison with those above in the sky on this gorgeous day in July, golden-purple hues spilling into the concert bowl of the Winery in the twilight-afterglow of the setting sun. Seconds later, Foreigner takes the stage, one-by-one with ear-to-ear grins lighting up their features, hands waving and kisses blown in response to the cheers from eager fans.
The band hits hard, straight into “Double Vision” with no rest as they continue on to “Head Games” and “Cold As Ice” during which lead singer, Kelly Hansen (who has fronted Foreigner for twelve years now) jumps from the stage to journey up and down the tiers of seating, shaking hands and getting up close and personal with as many fans as possible. It is only after these three songs does Hansen finally address the crowd, joking about the fact that they started the show hitting with such high energy.
“It’s okay,” he says as he scans the faces staring up at him. “I thought backstage before the show how I’m getting fucking old, but then I remembered you guys are all getting old too!” Hansen jokes with loyal Foreigner fans, though there are no hard feelings. Hansen acknowledges the overwhelming amount of young fans too — even taking a moment to apologize for the curse words used, an exasperated sigh quickly following as Hansen gives a coy smile. “It’s nothing they haven’t already heard, I promise!” he tells parents (in reference to the ‘bad’ language) as though it’s something top secret. This sets the mood for the entire evening, the playful banter with the crowd and how personable the band is, making his experience even more intimate than it already was.
“We thought after those three songs, we’d let you have a slow love song to recuperate,” says Hansen as he prefaces “Waiting For A Girl Like You.” He encourages the crowd to turn to the person standing next to you, to take full advantage of the slower love song to cuddle up, to share the experience, to dance and make memories with. All over the venue, couples pair up arm in arm as the song begins. It is overwhelming to watch lovers sway together to a love song we can only guess has been with them for over twenty years (after all, the hit was first released in 1981).
What better way to follow-up a love song than with the perfect anti-love song? Kelly Hansen pays homage to California, letting us know he’s familiar with what it’s like to be from the Golden State. He goes on a short soliloquy, expressing his admiration for the beautiful, intelligent and foxy women of California. Of course, this can only mean one thing. That these foxy women know how to handle a “Dirty White Boy.” Foreigner have no trouble bringing the tempo back up to speed as Hansen jumps around from one side of the stage to the next. He sings the lyrics to “Dirty White Boy” with a flirtatious nature, his back turned to the crowd as he shakes his hips in rhythm to the song. Hansen pairs up with fellow band members Bruce Watson (who is filling in for founding member Mick Jones on lead guitar), Jeff Pilson on bass and Thom Gimbel (who may not have been part of the original Foreigner line-up, but he has been part of the Foreigner family since 1992), playfully poking and prodding as the two play their instruments and Hansen accuses them of finding trouble, stepping closer into the danger zones and being just some dirty white boys.
When a band has as many hits as Foreigner, you can expect an impressive setlist plucked from their catalog of fan-favorites. There was no dull moment of Foreigner’s performance. Hansen can be seen at all times with more energy than even some of the musicians half his age. There is a very obvious intimate presence — a relationship built between the band and crowd — as musicians feed off the energy. Hansen returns to teasing the fans, encouraging everyone to get off the asses. He points out, albeit playful as ever, that those in house with arguably the best seats are still sitting — “Please, get off your asses!” — He pleads into his microphone through a goofy smile.
The mood is eased back down as an introduction is made, the next song being described as the “genesis of acoustic songs,” both recorded and performed live. The band goes into an unplugged “Say You Will” without much further ado. All six members can be seen singing this one — reiterating just how multi-talented these musicians are. Foreigner are arguable pros when it comes to entertaining. Their songs were perfectly placed, giving us the right amount of energy, the playful banter, the interactive jokes and the eye-contact that each member can be caught giving to fans in the audience. Just when they get our hearts racing, they slow it back down but again, Foreigner had no trouble whatsoever when it came to getting things back up to a peak. “Feels Like The First Time,” and “Starrider” follow back-to-back. Now, you’d think this would be where the show starts to dive seeing as they are more than half way through their set, but Foreigner hits harder than ever with their 1981 hit, “Urgent.” The crowd watches in awe and excitement as this song especially showcases the musician’s talent. This is where keyboardist Michael Bluestein and multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel show their flexibility, especially in Gimbel’s saxophone solo which left me speechless. Seeing this live puts the recorded version I grew up loving to shame. There are few words to be said that could even begin to capture the talent Foreigner fans were fortunate enough to witness, so we’ll leave it at a simple summary: we were blown away.
The band takes off stage, leaving behind Bluestein for an intermission of sorts, but not for the keyboardist who begins to entertain us with his multi-keyboard set up. He performed a solo with keys and synth that we’re sure even new-age synth-based music would covet the talent-range of. After a few minutes, percussionist Chris Fraizer takes the stage behind his impressive drum kit. The spotlights blend in every color of the rainbow as Fraizer delivers a drum solo deserving to be ranked with the best of our time. Between his perfectly timed tambourine-fitted-high-hats and cowbell, Fraizer sets the bar for drum solos. Despite the length of his performance, he never once seemed exhausted. He paused, momentarily, to take a sip of water but we have a hard time believing it was to quench his thirst. Most of the content of the bottle was emptied onto his drums, to create a water-explosion effect that left the crowd entirely on their feet, a standing ovation.
The special effects seemed to fade, the lights shutting off to leave the stage in pure darkness. Music can be heard, soft and slow as the band returns to the stage, ready to perform “Jukebox Hero” in all of it’s infamous glory. The band played a ten-minute live version of this beloved song, continuing to impress with their overzealous all-out rocking out. The band definitely didn’t skimp on the opportunity to have a good time, and in turn ensure that everyone in the venue was having a good time. Hansen can be seen interacting again with the crowd on a personal level, as well as Watson and Gimbel who are all singing and dancing with stars in their eyes reflecting the ones in their fans’ own.
You would expect Foreigner to close the show with “Jukebox Hero” and after their spectacular live performance, I was left wondering ‘what could possibly follow this?’ The band’s encore consisted of three songs; “Long, Long Way From Home,” and how could we forget, “I Want To Know What Love Is” which had an almost gospel-feel to it as Foreigner invited Saratoga High’s very own choir to accompany them on stage. The show came to an end but only after their prominent hit, “Hot Blooded.” By this time, I found myself (and I am sure it was a notion shared by the masses) thinking, ‘this can’t be the end.’ The show was phenomenal. It is no secret, some might dismiss the chance to see Foreigner because of it being a reincarnation and the lack of founding members in the band, but do not be fooled. These men are here for a reason. Foreigner, like many bands who have been around as long as (or even just a few years), have had their share of member-rotations but this is not something to be scoffed at. Kelly Hansen (and each one of the members for that matter) does an incredible justice to Foreigner. They are keeping these songs alive in such a genuine and authentic manner, keeping the songs close enough to what we know and love, while also making these songs their own. To discredit the current members and try to label them as anything but Foreigner is an utter disgrace. Their performance was legendary and I am certain it could be held up in equal comparison to the band’s first line-ups and headlining tours twenty (thirty, even forty) years prior.
This was Foreigner’s second time performing at the Mountain Winery. They followed their performance by playing at the Marin County Fair on July 4th. The band will be embarking on a world tour for the next several months and if you regrettably missed out, don’t worry. They’ll be back in the Bay Area(ish — their closest stop will be in Modesto) at the end of October. For tour dates, check out their official website.
We could leave you with some cheesy nod to Foreigner’s hits (such as seeing them almost felt like seeing a rock concert for the very first time and left us all with the desire to keep on rocking and the need to stay on top) but don’t take our word for it. There are none to properly describe what an honor it was to be a part of celebrating Foreigner’s 40 years and to be given the chance to meet with the band. I do not say this lightly, but you’d have a hard time finding a nicer group of men, especially as humble and charismatic as these classic rock all-stars are.