Went to see Foreigner last week at the Mountain Winery, Saratoga, California. I knew that the only original member of the band present would be guitarist Mick Jones and that they had a “replacement” vocalist for Lou Gramm but I was curious to see how the show would be. And…it was really great – surpassing my expectations, which got me thinking about why it was so special. A fair amount of it was nostaligia – for a tight ’70’s classic rock sound, and for a band that was popular when I was in high school. But a dominant factor was the new vocalist, Kelly Hansen, who took the mantle of lead rock vocalist and delivered a flawless performance, hitting all the notes, sounding every bit as strong as Lou back in the day.
This phenomena of bands employing replacement singers shows no signs of abating. Besides drummers (wink), vocalists seem to be the first to “retire” from a band. Sometimes this is to pursue a solo career, or due to personal issues within the group, but as time goes on it is often true that there are health issues and the assertive vocals just aren’t presentable anymore. For various reasons, we have more youthful vocalists fronting Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Yes, and Alan Parsons – all solid acts from the 70’s. Each of these acts rely on the singer to deliver the message, to dance or strike postures, engage the crowd and to be an entertainer. It’s a critical role and the show ends up being a disappointment if the vocalist cannot meet the challenge – particularly daunting for those whose core work relied on emotive, forceful vocals.
In fact, the trend of touring with new crew does not stop with the vocalist. At this show for instance, Mick was the only original member of the band. The other core original member, Ian McDonald (keys, winds) has been out this decade with an assortment of ex-King Crimson players covering early tracks by that band. Several acts I’ve seen recently have only a one or two original members still wailing away. Eventually, we end up with “tribute” bands being the only way to experience the music live, and I’ve seen some great tributes including The Musical Box (Genesis), and The Australian Pink Floyd. Tribute bands for 80’s artists are now following suit.
Some decry the advent of rock musicians still pushing their wares past age 50 or 60 and it clearly is important that the band be able to deliver as great a show as possible. My experience has been that more often than not, these shows have been well played and entertaining. Heart and The Rolling Stones are examples of bands that have been solid this decade with their original vocalists. Artists from the 80’s like Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, and Echo & The Bunnymen have similarly put on amazing shows. As time goes on, tribute bands will step in to recreate and interpret the work of these original artists. We can now see that rock and it’s variants should be able to endure just as classical music has, to be recreated and experienced by new generations into the future. To me, either within the band, or as a tribute, these foreigners are most welcome.