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Foreigner breathes new life into hits

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    JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Kelly Hansen (left) and Mick Jones of Foreigner rock out on stage at Penn's Peak Sunday night.
Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

When Foreigner released its debut album way back in 1977, Mick Jones discovered a winning formula.

That musical alchemy combined catchy, hard rock with soulful vocals and touches of rhythm and blues. Throw in some heartfelt ballads, and the pieces were in place for chart domination.

Critics might have dismissed it behind labels such as corporate or arena rock, but Jones has had the last laugh, as Foreigner sold millions of records and cranked out a plethora of hits that are still being played by pop and classic rock radio to this day.

Those songs still hold up live, too, as demonstrated by Foreigner's concert at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe Sunday night.

Jones, the lone original member still in the band, isn't coasting on his laurels and is leading this edition of Foreigner into a new phase, with the group's first new album in 15 years set for release exclusively at Walmart on Tuesday.

As for the hits, Foreigner packed 15 of them, plus one new song, into a satisfying set before a crowd of 1,400 at the Peak.

Opening with the thunderous guitar riffs of "Double Vision", the title cut from their second album, Foreigner not only managed to relive their past glories but breathed new life into them.

The main question with any version of Foreigner is the lead singer, who has a high bar to meet in following in the prodigious footsteps of original singer Lou Gramm, whose vocals are as much as part of the band's signature sound as anything.

While the diehards will remain partial to Gramm, with all due respect, current singer Kelly Hansen has the pipes to handle Foreigner's vocal duties while bringing his own rock and roll energy into it. His enthusiasm was contagious, as he left the stage on occasion to trade some high faves with fans along the rails at the Peak.

The rhythm section, featuring ex-Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Brian Tichy, who has taken over for Jason Bonham, is rock solid. At one point, Tichy bashed his way through the drum solo by smashing the skins and cymbals with his bare hands.

Jones remains a talented guitarist who continues to supply the power riffs and solos that drive Foreigner's hit sound.

While sticking mostly with the familiar arrangements, Jone and company weren't afraid to mix things up every once in awhile, such as going with an acoustic version of "Say You Will" or tossing some wicked Led Zeppelin into "Juke Box Hero".

As expected, hits like "Cold As Ice", "Feels Like the First Time" and "Blue Morning, Blue Day" still sound great and invite the crowd to sing along. "Head Games" and "Dirty White Boy" took on added energy.

Three highlights of the set included a rousing "Starrider", with Jones on vocals, with a punchy guitar solo added; "Urgent", with Tom Gimbel recreating Junior Walker's famous sax solo, then adding a doozy of his own; and "Juke Box Hero", with a touch of "Whole Lotta Love" tossed in for good measure.

With all the hits, there was little room for new material, but Foreigner did perform the title cut from the upcoming album, "Can't Slow Down", which is supposedly a NASCAR tribute. In a way, it's a follow-up to "Rev on the Red Line" from the Head Games album but amped up a bit, proving that Jones hasn't lost his touch.

The ballads, "Waiting for a Girl Like You" and "I Want to Know What Love Is", were handled with care by Hansen; the latter was part of the three-song encore that also included "Long Long Way From Home" and a pulsating "Hot Blooded".

The band also participated in a fundraiser for Dream Come True, raffling off an autographed guitar, with chances included with the purchase of a greatest hits double CD, which was sold at half price for $10.

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