116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It's been nearly a half century since Mick Jones formed Foreigner. The British guitarist-songwriter assembled a band that was half-British and half-American in 1976 in New York.
Jones wrote or co-wrote nearly every song from the band's first four platinum-plus albums. “Feels Like the First Time,” “Urgent,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Hot Blooded” are just some of the many Foreigner cuts that landed on Billboard's Top 10 pop chart.
“Those songs still stand up,” keyboardist Michael Bluestein, 52, said by phone from Salt Lake City. “It's amazing how classic those songs are, considering that some of those songs are 45 years old.
“I remember being a kid listening to ‘Feels Like the First Time.’ I was young (7 years old) but I've always known a smash when I heard a smash. The cool thing which isn't surprising, is that those songs are still in rotation on classic rock radio. Mick tapped into something that is timeless. People still listen to those songs and they still come out to our shows.”
Foreigner, which also includes vocalist Kelly Hansen, bassist Jeff Pilson, guitarists Bruce Watson and Luis Maldonado and drummer Chris Frazier, will perform a “greatest hits” concert Wednesday, Aug. 11,2021, at the McGrath Amphitheatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
“After having been off for over a year, we started playing out in May and we've been keeping busy,” Bluestein said. “I forgot how great it was to play live again.”
Bluestein has been part of Foreigner for 13 years.
“It's been an honor and a validation,” Bluestein said. “To be worthy of playing these songs is amazing. It's a great gift as a keyboardist, since songs like ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’ and ‘Feels Like the First Time’ are pretty rich for keyboard songs.”
It's a bit of a different dynamic with Hansen, who often banters for a minute or two between songs, than it was with prior vocalists, including longtime Foreigner singer Lou Gramm.
“Kelly loves engaging the audience,” Bluestein said. “He has fun with the crowd. He's great at connecting with fans during our shows.”
The only issue for the band is deciding what to include on its set list. Does Foreigner go with a pretty ballad, such as “I Don't Want to Live Without You” or a gritty, immediate cut like “Double Vision,” which hits listeners in the gut with Jones' opening riff?
“He starts that with a jazz chord and just pumps it with ‘Double Vision,’ ” said Thom Gimbel, 61, calling from his home in Los Angeles on Saturday. A multi-instrumentalist, he retired from the band in March, after 28 years. “It's a brilliant way to start a rock song. But yes, it's not easy for us to come up with a set list but that's a good problem to have. Every night we figure it out. ... This is a challenge since there is so much to choose from.”
Foreigner has more than enough familiar material in its canon, but Jones is compelled to craft new tunes.
“The word is that there are some fresh songs out there,” Bluestein said. “Some things are percolating with Mick. I don't think there will be an album anytime soon, but maybe some singles or a compilation with some new material on it.”
Foreigner bandmates enjoy their time on and off the stage with Jones. Gimbel always loves hearing tales from the band's early years.
“The stories are unbelievable,” he said. “My favorite story is when Mick and (former Foreigner drummer) Dennis Elliott were playing cards on a private jet the band had, courtesy of Atlantic Records. This is not long after the first album went crazy on the charts. The card game became heated and they were brawling as the plane was landing. Their fight spilled out onto the runway.
“I could sit around all day and hear Mick's old stories,” Gimbel said. “The coolest thing is that we're adding to the stories, since we're moving forward as a band.”