CEDAR RAPIDS — Cheers rang throughout Foreigner’s hit parade Thursday night at the U.S. Cellular Center, but the 4,000 fans saved their loudest for last — when 25 Solon High School singers joined the jukebox heroes onstage for the encore, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
And now those kids know what big love is, as everyone in the audience and onstage became their biggest fans.
Local violinist Natalie Brown, who played with the orchestra behind the band, shared on Facebook that she got teary eyed when the kids came onstage and couldn’t see her music. “What an experience,” she exclaimed. Local bass player Richard Wagor echoed that sentiment, calling the experience “awesome.”
The entire concert was an experience, as the band that hit it big with “Feels Like the First Time” in 1977 turned up the heat for nearly two hours with more than a decade of chart-toppers.
But this concert had a most elegant twist: orchestral arrangements that infused even the hardest rock beats with lush strings, blazing horns, keyboards, a harp and of course, the teen singers whose video won an online voting contest from local classic rock radio station KRNA.
Classic and classy describe the entire event. Charismatic lead singer Kelly Hansen, who has been with Foreigner since 2005, introduced the show. He explained that after playing in Switzerland with a full orchestra and choir last year for a video project, the band members liked it so much that they decided to take a similar version on the road, with the touring Dave Eggar.
Cedar Rapids was among those lucky sites for that limited concert series.
The evening began with an orchestral medley, building in intensity with some rocking brass as shafts of light swept over the audience. The strings stirred up a fury for “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” after which Hansen reiterated, “This is still a rock show.” To prove it, they turned up the fire with “Cold as Ice,” and then Hansen ran into the audience, jumped up on a chair halfway back and beckoned the crowd to sing and clap with him. The place went wild.
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Foreigner showed its softer side, too, turning to ballads like “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” Circles of light cast large dots over the audience like a giant mirror ball, followed by an acoustic version of the lovely “Say You Will.”
Thom Gimbel, in his trademark black hat, traded his guitar for some smoking hot tenor sax on “Urgent,” bringing a swell of fans to the front of the stage like a middle-aged mosh pit. I didn’t see any body surfing or slam dancing, but plenty of fists pumped the air for the remainder of the show, punctuated by screams as loud as their kids make at concerts.
The horns stepped to the front to dial up the R&B flavor of “Fool for You Anyway,” and Foreigner founder Mick Jones ripped through an opening guitar solo on “Hot Blooded.”
That showmanship worked the crowd into a frenzy that grew more fervent with the encore of a song older than the high school singers who were totally into the groove. Dressed in black, they swayed their way through the chorus of “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and the smiles on their faces grew even bigger with the cacophony of cheers from the crowd and high-fives from Jones and Hansen.
It’s an evening they’ll never forget.
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