Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Mark Lloyd
A real treat for AOR fans, a triple bill with some of the best Europe, the US and UK have to offer in the field of melodic rock, and the Civic was absolutely packed for the occasion, with a very healthy turnout, even when FM opened proceedings at the absurdly early time of 6.55.
Britain’s Greatest Ever Melodic Rock Band ™ are normally far too good a band to be third on the bill to anyone but the real giants of the genre, but tonight they seized their role with typical good humour and zest for the job, and gave us an absolutely sparkling set. As with all their gigs since the acclaimed ‘Rockville’ albums were released, they opened with ‘Tough Love’ to a great reception and then played out their 30 minute set with gems from across their career, although, perhaps strangely, there was none of the new material from the just-released ‘Futurama’ EP.
‘I Belong To The Night’ had the crowd singing for the first time in the evening, while the centrepiece of the set was the glorious ballad ‘Closer To Heaven’, showing exactly why Steve Overland is one of the most respected but underrated singers around. After that, the band really hit their stride and ‘Crosstown Train’ and ‘Burning My Heart Down’ brought the set to a fantastic end. The band remarked that this had been the first gig on the tour that was standing as opposed to seated and that it made so much difference to the atmosphere and the crowd response. The Civic was certainly at its best on the night, but frankly, FM in this kind of form can get the dead to dance. Too short, but a great set from a great band.
To an awful lot of both rock and music fans in general, Europe can be defined by one song and unfortunately, on a bill such as this, that one song casts a shadow over a lot of the rest of their excellent back catalogue, both old and new. Their set included a healthy mix of both, but apart from their own fans, tonight they seemed to find it hard to get the crowd really involved.
After opening with ‘Riches to Rags’ and ‘Firebox’, even the early inclusion of one of their better known older songs, ‘Superstitious,’ didn’t really seem to rouse the majority of the crowd, not even with an attempted singalong in the middle. ‘Rock The Night’, played immediately after ‘Cherokee’, near the end of the set, finally did get the crowd moving, but the band then perhaps a little casual with the momentum they’d built up by adding a quieter passage with another brief singalong and the band leaving the stage for the intro to ‘Last Look At Eden. However once the song got started properly, it finally kicked into some real life , the band’s sound filled out and they began to play with a lot more fire and aggression, finally looking like they were getting into things. That Song finished the set on a real high note, but on a bill with two other bands hitting real form, Europe’s set had too many fits and starts to be completely memorable.
So to Foreigner, and if Europe could be criticised for the pacing of their set, you could only admire the headliners for the way they went about their business. They have a back catalogue that must be familiar to anyone who has ever followed rock music and in this show they made full use of it. The opening four song salvo of ‘Double Vision’, ‘Head Games’, ‘Cold As Ice’ and ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ was as good as melodic rock gets, and had the Civic jumping.
However, the first thing longstanding fans of the band noticed was that founder and guitarist Mick Jones was nowhere to be seen, instead guitar work was being taken care of by Bruce Watson and multi instrumentalist Tom Gimbel. Jones had had some health problems over the last year and it was initially hoped that he’d merely been feeling unwell on the day of the gig rather than anything more serious, but then after the first four songs, singer Kelly Hansen gave him a big introduction and there he was. No explanation given, but with the late entrance, and a carefully inserted break in the set, disguised as drum and keyboard solos during ‘Urgent’, it seemed logical that he was still building up to playing a full set.
Unlike Europe, Foreigner didn’t introduce any newer material into the show, nothing later than a song or two from1984’s ‘Inside Information’, and even then when Hansen introduced a song from that very album, ‘That Was Yesterday’, he stated that they didn’t play it very often. I fail to see why, though, because it’s an awesome song. The main set ended with a storming ‘Juke Box Hero’, and the inevitable encore included ‘Long Way From Home’, ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, where the band were joined by members of FM and Europe as backing singers, and to end the show, ‘Hot Blooded’.
Although you can’t really go wrong with a back catalogue like theirs you still have to deliver on stage, and Foreigner certainly did that. Extensive touring has turned them into a seriously well-drilled unit, and Kelly Hansen is one of the best frontmen for an arena band around, his voice is a perfect fit for the music and he’s an absolute live wire on stage, rarely still, at one stage he even attempted to climb up the PA to shake hands with the front row of the balcony, and yet never letting it prevent him from giving a terrific vocal performance.
While I found Europe slightly disappointing on the night, nonetheless this was a great evening’s entertainment, a lot of superb music played to a packed house with a tremendous atmosphere throughout the show.