SARATOGA SPRINGS - Does it feel like the first time, like the very first time?
Gorging on a setlist first unveiled between the years 1977 and 1984, Foreigner brought their 40th Anniversary Tour to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Tuesday night, for better or worse sticking to a menu of hits that ruled the pre-Google airwaves.
But, does it feel like the very first time?
That all depends upon what you felt about it then. Foreigner has always been a polarizing band. Even at the time of their founding they represented a symbolic continuum of a middle-of-the-road arena rock that ruled the American mainstream. The first time I saw Foreigner was on a June day in 1978, opening for the Rolling Stones (who were awful that night) with 100,000 other people in a Philadelphia stadium undoubtedly constructed during the Fred Flinstone Era and subsequently condemned and mercifully demolished at some later date.
Cheap Trick, who also performed at SPAC Tuesday night, I first saw on a stage at The Palladium in New York City that same year, in support of The Cars. So, it is through this historic lens, perhaps, that gave the evening the feel of a high school reunion. This despite the comments of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, who introduced his band’s recreation of its debut album tune “He’s a Whore” this way: “Here’s a song from an album that came out before 90 percent of you were born.” Nice sentiment, but likely not accurate.
Adding a touch of surrealism to the back-in-the-day feel of the concert, Jason Bonham - son of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham - opened the show with a nine-song set consisting entirely of Zeppelin tunes. Flanked by bass player Dorian Heartsong – draped in a Leo glyph T-shirt reminiscent of Mick Jagger’s “Gimme Shelter” days, and guitar player Tony Catania – bearing a New York City T-shirt similar to the one John Lennon wore for Bob Gruen’s iconic photograph, Bonham pounded his drum kit with a befitting sense of his dad’s original work while singer James Dylan delivered an uncanny spot-on recreation of Robert Plant’s vinyl vocalizations. Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience: the best Led Zeppelin cover band in the world.
Cheap Trick, which mostly remains intact member-wise (drummer Bun E. Carlos was replaced by Rick Nielsen's son Daxx in 2010) hit several high points during its 55-minute set. They performed crowd favorites “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police,” and “Surrender” – to the band’s credit the only three songs repeated compared to its show at the venue last September – and a passionately haunting rendition of “Heaven Tonight.”
Singer Robin Zander, bearing a cop’s hat and a “Dream Police” stitched leatherette jacket played to the crowd and guitarist Rick Nielsen was his usual gregarious self, perpetually swapping six-string machines from among his armada of guitars, flipping guitar picks into the crowd, and during the lyric in “Surrender” when Zander sings “Got my KISS records out,” flinging (presumably a KISS) album jacket, ninja-like 15 rows deep, and inspiring a mad dash of concert goers scrambling for the souvenir.
The intermission change-over on stage was accompanied by the inescapable bleating of ‘80s tunes by the likes of Supertramp and Billy Joel, eventually leading to a tear-away curtain that unveiled the night’s headliners. Foreigner – led by sole remaining founding member Mick Jones - kicked off its set with “Double Vision” and “Head Games” and didn’t veer off course from the identical dozen-song hit parade they’ve been performing on this 40th anniversary tour. Juke box heroes? Or, cold as ice? That all depends upon how you felt about it that very first time.