- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

My musical wake-up call came in 1978, when I was in the fifth grade. Billy Larson had brought his brother’s copy of Foreigner’s “Double Vision” to school, and the two of us — along with Mark Pulver — cranked “Hot Blooded” using a school-issued turntable and headphones. “This is real rock and roll,” I thought at the time.

I had the same feeling Tuesday night, when the band played the Birchmere and reprised “Hot Blooded” as well as a number of its other hit singles, with all the energy and enthusiasm of its glory days.

The songs remain the same, but the band’s lineup does not. The only original member is Mick Jones, who belted out a few too many guitar solos and looks as if he’s ready for AARP membership. Backing him on drums is Jason Bonham, whose father, John, was the drummer for Led Zeppelin. Lead vocalist Kenny Hansen lacks the range of his predecessor, Lou Gramm, but his resemblance to Keith Partridge — complete with a gold chain and a thatch of feathered brown hair — helps anchor the band in its ‘70s roots.

While Foreigner (which was formed in England in 1976) failed ever to win a Grammy, it was always a tad more respectable than its arena-rock brethren. It never went too commercial (a la Journey) or too schlocky (a la Styx). Nor was it a personality-driven band. You could say Foreigner has always let the music speak for itself.

Speak it did, with nearly 50 million albums sold since the group’s self-titled inaugural release in 1977. Foreigner hasn’t generated much new material for the past 15 years or so, but it still has plenty of ammo, which it skillfully deployed Tuesday night. Standout songs that brought the middle-aged majority mullet-wearing crowd to its feet included “Head Games,” “Feels Like the First Time” and “Jukebox Hero,” as well as “Urgent” (which featured an adroit sax solo by Thom Gimbel).

This power pop was mixed with the band’s obligatory power ballads, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” A very pleasant surprise was the band’s spot-on rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” as well as a 15-second riff of “Whole Lotta Love.”

Still, playing a 500-seat venue like Alexandria’s Birchmere is quite a comedown from the massive arenas Foreigner once headlined. The band does have sentimental reasons for coming to Washington, though. Its first-ever U.S. show was an afternoon performance at American University (followed by the Bayou that same night).

The very fact that Foreigner is still performing 28 years later is, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, akin to a dog walking on its hind legs. It need not be done well to impress, as one is surprised to find it done at all.

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