FOREIGNER – LIVE AT THE RAINBOW ‘78 (2019)
Featuring Lou Gramm, Mick Jones, Ian McDonald, Al Greenwood, Ed Gagliardi and Dennis Elliott.
Directed by Derek Burbridge.
Distributed by Eagle Vision. 75 minutes. Not Rated.
With a few decades of hindsight, Foreigner is often dismissed as an adult contemporary power ballad band. And, yes, towards the end of their hit-making career in the mid-late 80s, they did tend to release a whole lot of smoochy ballads as singles.
However, Foreigner was so much more than just a group of wandering balladeers. In fact, for their first four albums they were considered to be a pretty hard rocking AOR band. Even when they slowed things down or went midtempo on their earlier tunes – songs like “Cold as Ice” and “Blue Morning, Blue Day” – the songs had a bite.
The first chink in their rocking reputation, strangely enough, came right in the middle of the band’s most popular album 4. It was a record that was almost wall-to-wall rockers, but with one sweet ethereal love ballad that became a huge hit. That tune was the absolutely stunning love song “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” which rode an ethereal keyboard line by a then-unknown Thomas (“She Blinded Me with Science”) Dolby to sonic nirvana.
However, the 4 LP was more of a rock album than an AC album. In fact, “Waiting” was only the second of five hits on the album, which also included rock classics “Urgent” and “Juke Box Hero.”
The next album and single was what cemented the “balladeer” reputation, though. “I Want to Know What Love Is” was a perfectly pretty song, even a little adventurous as ballads go, including a full gospel choir on backing vocals. It was also Foreigner’s first number one hit and the beginning of the end of their reputation as a rock act. Follow-up singles tended towards the soft and slow as well – things like “That Was Yesterday,” “Say You Will” and “I Don’t Want to Live Without You” saturated the airwaves and diluted the band’s reputation.
By the time that lead singer Lou Gramm left the group in the early 90s to concentrate on his solo career, the Foreigner brand was tarnished. Different incarnations of the group have been going since then on the nostalgia circuit; currently with only one original member – guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones – still part of the group on an ongoing basis. Jones has recently had a reconciliation with Gramm and now sometimes Gramm will sit in on concerts and even do a little recording. Still, he does not seem to be looking to reclaim the lead singer position, in fact Gramm seems to still be contented working on his solo stuff.
This concert video is not that kinder, gentler Foreigner. This is early, old-school Foreigner, still in peak fighting form and on the upswing as an arena-rock behemoth, caught during the tour to support their extremely popular (and mostly pretty hard-rocking) self-titled 1977 debut album, and preview the soon-to-be-released 1978 sophomore album Double Vision, which rocked even harder. They weren’t quite superstars yet (that would happen with 1981’s 4), but they were on the verge of having six top-40 hits on two albums in under two years, so the sky was the limit.
Still, Foreigner were still young and hungry enough that they would eschew the big stadiums and arenas to play at mid-sized locations like London’s legendary Rainbow Theater. (A mere three years later, I saw the band twice on the 4 Tour, where they headlined at the much-larger Philadelphia venues The Spectrum and JFK Stadium.)
Strangely, for a band that had only six hit singles on the first two albums, one of those six is not part of the setlist here – “Blue Morning, Blue Day” – which in fairness was the third single from the second album and did not become a hit until very early the next year. In fact, only two songs (“Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision”) are here from Double Vision – and both were previews of songs that the crowd had never heard, before that album was released.
However, otherwise, Live at the Rainbow ‘78 is a slamming celebration of the band’s first platter – a look at a band taking brisk strides towards rock stardom.
They burst out of the gates with a stomping run through of their early hit “Long Long Way from Home.” The sweet acoustically-based “Woman Oh Woman” gives a little preview of Foreigner’s future more laid-back vibe. It’s also intriguing because it is one of the few songs where Jones handles lead vocals, in a duet with Gramm – Jones takes the verses and Gramm the choruses.
This is followed by a preview – six weeks before its release – of their soon-to-be smash “Hot Blooded,” which burned down the house. The Londoners may not have known the song, but they approved. A couple of songs later, they continued the hits. “It’s one of our favorites. We get off on doing it,” Gramm says, introducing “Cold as Ice.” This anti-love song stung in its cynical take down of a cheating lover.
You then get to reconsider the soaring, dramatic “Starrider,” which was actually the second single from Foreigner, but it didn’t chart and was quickly eclipsed by the more-accessible smash third single “Cold as Ice.” A sweet, psychedelic opening leads into power-chords, thumping drums and yearning vocals. The song is a wild and overwrought and a somehow wonderfully lovable chunk of 70s testosterone-fueled progressive rawk-n-roll, complete with an extended flute solo. I can see why it never became a pop hit, but there is a place for this kind of pomp and circumstance in classic rock. “Starrider” feels like an entire concept album condensed into a single song, a spiritual cousin of “Stairway to Heaven,” “Freebird” or something by Rush. It almost feels like a great lost Spinal Tap song, but in no way is it a joke – which I mean as a huge compliment, by the way.
Technically… well it’s an old recording and the video quality is a bit iffy. Most of the camera shots are from mid-to-long range, the coloring is often a bit off, the crowd are just dark shadows and the screen often blacks out entirely between songs. However, back then videotaping was relatively rare as far as concerts, so you can’t expect much better. And the audio quality is pretty darned good.
Watching Foreigner Live at the Rainbow ’78, it is not hard to believe that this band would spend the next decade or so as one of the biggest groups in the universe. It reclaims Foreigner’s rock and roll chops for the whole world to see.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 15, 2019.