Alive & Rockin'

Foreigner

When Foreigner recorded Alive & Rockin' (originally released as a DVD) in 2006 at the Bang Your Head!!! Festival in Balingen, Germany, they offered themselves up like sacrificial lambs before a crowd snapping its jaws for bands like Death Angel and Armored Saint. But instead of being torn limb from limb, Foreigner was rousingly welcomed.

During the 30-plus years that the band's songs have been in heavy rotation, so have its players, leaving guitarist/founder Mick Jones as its sole original member. Purists may balk at this, skeptical that such long-standing tunes can fall victim to a mechanical, uninspired delivery; however, Jones and singer Kelly Hanson, bassist Jeff Pilson, then-drummer Jason Bonham, keyboardist Jeff Jacobs, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel dynamically catapult through a set that definitely feels like the first time.

The clean production that typifies Foreigner's studio recordings is roughened with a nice, edgy bite as they charge headlong through classics like "Double Vision," "Head Games" and "Cold as Ice" with little or no in-between banter interrupting the energetic flow. As challenging as it can be for a live album to transport listeners, this pace adeptly captures the intensity of actually being there. Also noteworthy is that the keyboards, which are often buried under the barrage of other instruments in a live setting, and which are one of the hallmarks of Foreigner's sound, are nicely mixed up front in this set.

Kelly Hanson demonstrates that he's a worthy successor to original singer Lou Gramm, occasionally eerily sounding like he's channeling Gramm's voice, but holding his own by packing a range and vocal wallop that's muscular and passionate, with just enough soul to color Foreigner's bluesy shadings.

At the helm is guitarist Mick Jones, whose signature sound has stood the test of time. On "Starrider," which is powerfully propelled by Jason Bonham's drumming, as well as "Feels Like the First Time" and "Hot Blooded", Jones delivers solos that are tasty and expressive, rather than an aimless torrent of high-speed shredding. "Urgent" is exactly that - starting with a nice edge-of-your-seat buildup and climaxing with a ripping sax solo from Tom Gimbel that swoops and descends with the agility of a trapeze artist.

"Juke Box Hero" is a standout, offering up a slinky prelude as spellbinding as the musical hypnotics of a snake charmer, thrust forward by Bonham's imaginative, powerhouse pummeling, which proves him a worthy bearer of his late dad's torch. All instruments churn furiously as the tune segues into Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," amply displaying the prowess of each of these veteran musicians, rather than solely shedding a spotlight on Bonham.

No, this is not the Foreigner of the 70s and 80s. Still, Alive & Rockin' showcases a constellation of bright stars blazing around the surpernova of Mick Jones deftly playing classics that have become the soundtrack to countless lives, and hints at exciting possibilities should they pour all of that hot blooded rocking into a studio CD.

~ Merryl Lentz

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