Few bands have generated as much controversy over the last few years as Foreigner. As guitarist and leader Mick Jones has stopped touring with the band, the current lineup does not contain any members from the band’s classic era, leading many to wonder if it is still Foreigner. Earlier this year, the band announced it would be embarking on “The Historic Farewell Tour” with support from Loverboy. Judging by the capacity crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena, fans will show up for the music even if the members have changed over the years.
The night began with one of Canada’s greatest exports, Loverboy, taking the stage. In contrast to Foreigner, Loverboy still tours with its classic lineup of Mike Reno on vocals, Paul Dean on guitar, Doug Johnson on keys, and Matt Frenette on drums. Original bassist Scott Smith passed away in 2000, since then, Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve has held down the low end.
Loverboy’s set was filled with hits from their first 5 classic albums. The majority of the crowd was in their seats for the one-hour opening set, singing along with the anthems that helped define the 80s. Reno was in great voice and Paul Dean showed why he has always been so underrated as a guitarist. In addition to keys, Johnson also played sax and harmonica throughout the set while also providing spot-on backing vocals.
Loverboy may not be the first band you think of when talking about the 80s, but when you see the energy and litany of hits they bring to the stage you remember what a great band they are. The band clearly loved being on the big arena stage, and unlike a lot of bands from their era, every note was played live.
Foreigner is not the only band on the road with no original members, but they are the highest-profile. The 2023 lineup is anchored by long-time bassist Jeff Pilson and vocalist Kelly Hansen and is rounded out by keyboardist Michael Bluestein, guitarists Bruce Watson and Luis Maldonado, and drummer Chris Frazier. Hobbled by a back injury, Pilson was forced to play the show seated.
Once the music starts, the controversy over who is or isn’t on stage ends as this band can play the hell out of these classic songs. Kelly Hansen is a frontman directly out of the Steven Tyler mold, constantly in motion and giving his all for every song. Comparisons to Lou Gramm, the classic voice of the band, are inevitable, but in the nearly 20 years he has led the band, Hansen has developed his own style and brings his personality to these songs.
The first part of the show was a high-energy run through a pack of 5 stone-cold classics, “Double Vision”, “Head Games”, “Cold As Ice”, “Waiting For A Girl Like You”, and “Dirty White Boy”. Pilson came up front on keys for “Cold As Ice” as Maldonado took over on bass.
The second section of the show was an acoustic set beginning with “When It Comes To Love” from the band’s only studio record with Hansen, followed by the 4 deep cut “Girl On The Moon” and 1987’s “Say You Will”. It was at this point, however, that the pacing of the show took a hit. The band introductions during the acoustic set went on for a little too long, halting the momentum of the show.
Coming out of the acoustic set was another overly long break that saw Hansen talking to the crowd about aging, leading into the band’s first single “Feels Like The First Time”. Foreigner then launched into one of its biggest hits, “Urgent”, and probably its biggest misstep of the night. The song features arguably the most legendary sax solo this side of “Jungleland”. However, long-time sax player Thom Gimbel retired in 2021, so the solo was played by Bluestein on a keytar. Bluestein is incredibly talented, but it just doesn’t work. Such an iconic solo needs to be played on a sax. Perhaps Doug Johnson of opening act Loverboy could have joined the band for the solo?
After “Urgent”, the band went into 3 extended solos. The feeling in the crowd was that we would rather hear more classic songs as opposed to solos that went on a little too long. As they ended, the band came back for a fantastic version of “Juke Box Hero” to end the main set.
The encore brought some surprises in the form of original Foreigner keyboardist Al Greenwood and classic-era bass player Rick Wills. The two joined the current band in front of the stage for the encore of “I Want To Know What Love Is” and “Hot Blooded”. One of the things Foreigner has done very well over the years is bring out the classic members with the new band. It adds a legitimacy to the current lineup and really illustrates a passing of the torch.
The Historic Farewell Tour definitely makes for a great night of music. When the band played, they were incredible, but there was too much downtime. Foreigner’s set was just under two hours, but a good 30-35 minutes was solos and talking to the crowd. As this is the farewell tour of one of rock’s biggest bands, I would have loved to hear another 3 or 4 songs rather than the long breaks. All that said, this version of Foreigner is a great lineup, plays entirely live, and deserves to be given a chance.