Friday, May 07, 2010

Rockin Into The Night With The Juke Box Heroes

My wife took a lot of pictures from the concert, the one I liked the most is this blurry one from the Foreigner segment. I just like how it captures the energy. You get first prize in the fair honey, blue ribbon!

38 Special rating:

Foreigner rating:

and a half.
Still waking up from last night's fun filled extravaganza at the Dixon CA fair. I ate two kick ass corn dogs and lost money to one of the slickest carnys I've met. At the end of the evening two bands played: 38 Special and Foreigner!

We had good seats in the 3rd row for the show, it was outdoors in the nice open air. The temperature in Dixon is warm in the day and cold at night so we brought jackets even though we it was plenty warm earlier.

Until yesterday morning, I didn't know 38 Special was going to be there. I've been a fan of 38 for ages and had always wanted to see them live. Now I finally was going to :)

38 Special Set List:

Rockin Into The Night / Twentieth Century Fox / Back Where You Belong / If I'd Been The One / Wild Eyed Southern Boys / Help Somebody / Fantasy Girl / Medley (Back To Paradise - Somebody Like You - Teacher Teacher - Rough Housin' - Stone Cold Believer - Like No Other Night - Second Chance) / Caught Up In You

Encore: Hold On Loosely / Song I Didn't Know / Traveling Band

This set list was from memory so hopefully it's in the right order. As I said before, I've always wanted to see this band live. 38 Special straddles the line between clean AOR perfection and rippin' Southern Rock in a way that not only satisfies but has been influential on music (though they don't get credit for it). When I hear modern Country with it's blending of commercial rock and twang, I automatically think "This is the 38 Special sound". In High School I had all their records and followed them up to Rock And Roll Strategy in 1989. Although the current lineup doesn't feature one of my favorite guitarists, Jeff Carlisi, I was still pumped to see them.

They opened with the jam that kicked off their commercial success, the Survivor penned "Rockin Into The Night". Original members Don Barnes (guitar / lead vocals) and Donnie Van Zant (guitar / sometimes lead vocals) were in fine voice and the band featuring original bassist Larry Junstrom, longtime guitarist Danny Chauncey (formerly of the Bay Area band Billy Satellite) ,a drummer plus a keyboardist who I was not familiar with were locked into the groove. "Twentieth Century Fox" was a song I was hoping would be done just because I like it, the barrelling rhythm and vocal trade offs are hecka fun live.

The veteran band was well rehearsed yet still obviously enjoyed live performance. They were all smiles and energetically stoked the flames of the audience with signals to wave arms, clap hands or just plain "get on your feet!". Donnie Van Zant in particular was a blast, in the 80s I would see a lot of action photographs of him live and wondered if they were posed. Happy to say they are not, Van Zant runs all over the stage swinging his arms, mic stands and whatever else he can get his hands on. Guitarist Chauncey slightly overdid what I call the "Point and pick" and the "Side shoulder hustle" (The "point and pick" is when you point your finger at the audience and then pick a note, the "Side shoulder hustle" is when you move toward the audience with your shoulder at them like you're gonna sling something big) but was still engaging. Barnes tore into his solos, even taking over some of the old Carlisi ones, with his steady ragged riffing. Sometimes he would get into kicking matches with bassist Junstrum that was fun to watch.

"Back Where You Belong" came next, the song that got me into 38 Special to start with. Barnes faux police officer shirt brought back memories of the Hill Street Blues inspired video. After the song, Barnes made a joke about 1984 and parachute pants before the group launched into "If I'd Been The One" making it a tour de force from the Tour De Force album. The double play reminded me of playing Tour De Force endlessly because I was hooked on those two songs in '84. Even on vacation I would just play this tape and stare at the horses running from the fire on the cover.
38's unofficial theme song, "Wild Eyed Southern Boys" went by without a hitch.

Donnie Van Zant, a guy I thought of as being in the curious position of being a lead singer who doesn't sing lead, plugged his recent effort recorded with his brother Johnnie (from Lynyrd Skynyrd) in performing a track from their album Get Right With The Man. The song "Help Somebody" was OK, a bit of a snooze live without the dynamic interaction of the Van Zants playing off each other. Felt a little bad for Van Zant, the guy clearly liked this song a lot and fans used it for a bathroom break.

The pace picked up again with the surging "Fantasy Girl" (I'd say a favorite of mine, but so many of their songs are that it becomes redundant to say that). And then things got weird.

I realize 38 Special was the opening act, but that knowledge did not offset the strangeness of the hits medley that followed. The medley generally went opening riff, first verse, chorus then switch to the next song with the same pattern. It was as if I was watching a concert in fast forward, I'd just start getting into a song before it would shift to the next. At least I got to hear snippets of awesome cuts like "Somebody Like You" and "Rough Housin". The medley ended with a slightly extended chorus for the ballad "Second Chance", the groups biggest pop hit and only smash from the non Don Barnes era. So the keyboard player filled in the Max Carl role of singing lead and did a spot on job of capturing that vocal. And it answered my own trivia question: Does 38 Special play their biggest hit since Barnes wasn't there?

The crowd jumped to their feet and danced for "Caught Up In You" and ended the main part of the set. After a brief break where the drummer didn't even leave the stage, the group returned to kick off the encore with the Guitar Hero classic "Hold On Loosely". Barnes ably took over the mighty Carlisi solo at the end to everyones satisfaction. I went to the bathroom and 38 surprised with a longer encore that started with some song I didn't recognize from the porta potty, when I got out they were on to Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin Band". These last two songs were rollicking fast paced takes that really rocked.

The band left and the roadies began resetting the stage for Foreigner. The sun was going down and the temperature cooled more. was Foreigner time!

Foreigner set list:

Double Vision / Head Games / Blue Morning, Blue Day / Cold As Ice / Waiting For A Girl Like You / When It Comes To Love / Dirty White Boy / Starrider / Feels Like The First Time / Urgent / Juke Box Hero

Encore: Long Long Way From Home / I Want To Know What Love Is / Hot Blooded

The last time I had seen our erstwhile heroes was in 1999, as the opening act for Journey. Lou Gramm was still in the band but struggling with the health issues that affected his voice and weight. They were decent, it was tough watching Gramm unable to deliver the type of performance I had seen in '84 (through no fault of his own, the fact that he could perform at all after a brain tumor is an impressive feat in itself). The audio seemed sweetened on the choruses to cover for the change, it was still a good show. Just not up to the standard I had seen on the kickin' Agent Provacateur tour. My wife wore the T shirt I had from that concert, much to the delight of drunken fair attendees.

Foreigner hit the stage to the tune of double double, "Double Vision". This was my first live exposure to the current version of Foreigner that recorded a strong album, Can't Slow Down. Lead singer Kelly Hansen was in good form, his voice was strong and he nailed the Gramm styled vocals down to the inflections. Hansen exuded energy and showmanship, in some ways he was even more outgoing than Gramm was. Where Hansen lost me was his visual performance, he looks and moves like Steven Tyler (sorry, is that Brand Tyler?). This skinny guy with a long face and longer black hair moving all herky jerky - looks like Tyler, sounds like was a bit too much for me to process. It actually distracted me to the point that I missed Gramm for much of the concert. Though all things considered, Hansen did a good job.

The hits kept coming with "Head Games" that included some additional soloing by band leader Mick Jones. Hansen did a nice job of relating his California-ness to the audience after "Games", leading into another 70s classic "Blue Morning, Blue Day". "Cold As Ice" was next, featuring some fine vocals by the band as a whole as they retained the layered attack of the studio cut.

It was time to slow the mood down as Mick Jones took to the keyboards (though the band's keyboardist is quite good on his own) for the power ballad "Waiting For A Girl Like You". It started with just Jones and Hansen for the first verse, giving Hansen some time to shine. Though Hansen is mimicing Lou Gramm's original vocals, he definitely sings like he owns it which is cool. Then finally he got to sing a song he was on the ground floor for in its creation, the ballad "When It Comes To Love" from the Can't Slow Down album. I would have liked to have heard more songs from this album live, but you know they got to sell tickets so the new stuff was limited just to this.

Following the back to back ballads, Foreigner rocked things back up with "Dirty White Boy". Mick Jones took center stage for some six string sting. Jones has lost a step in his solos with age, he doesn't sound quite as accurate as he once was but that's OK. With Jones it was never about the flashy solos anyway, it was about those monster riffs and hooky melodies he comes up with. And he's still sharp as a tack on that. Did I just say "Sharp as a tack"? Damn I'm old, not as old as Mick Jones but still old.

Speaking of which, Jones handled lead vocals as they pulled out the proggy space rocker "Starrider" from their debut album. The band supported Jones nicely, he definitely has an ear for selecting good talent. The multinstrumentalist guy who plays guitars also sported some good flute at the start. All members of Foreigner both past and present have been formidable musicians and Jones gives them the space to do their thang, seems like a nice boss.

It was now time to run off to the big finish, in fact it felt like...the first time? "Feels Like The First Time" was trotted out for all to see. I got a big kick out of watching bassist Jeff Pilson, I'd been a big fan of Dokken back in the day but did not see them live. Pilson had all the hair band poser moves down it was awesome, he did the big swinging arms, headbanged and the "meet you in the middle of the stage and rock together." His rumbling bass lines added character to the groups sound.

Some keyboard flourishes led to the ever funky "Urgent" topped off by that guy that plays guitar / flute getting a sax solo. He amped it up even getting on his knees to dramatize it all.

The keyboardist and drummer then had a solo that was supposed to be together, the keys were nice and synthy and the drummer (who I think was said to be playing his second concert with Foreigner) syncopated with him. Then midway through, the power seemed to go out on the keyboardist leaving him with nothing while the drummer kept soloing. It was actually kinda cool, the new drummer is a basher type whose style reminds me a bit of original Foreigner drummer Dennis Elliott. The keys came back online to finish the solo and lead into the set closer...

That would be "Juke Box Hero". "Hero" still pulsates with power as the band brought the house down. Jones slung out as much flash as he could on the solo, even playing while moving the guitar around like a ouija board.

After a little bit of cheering Foreigner returned with the ever awesome "Long Long Way From Home." Then the one -two punch of "I Want To Know What Love Is" and "Hot Blooded" to end things on a high note. I've got to say, of the various live versions of "Hot Blooded" I've heard and experienced, this was by far the longest. We left about half way through the song to beat the traffic home, the song didn't end until we were almost off the fairgrounds. I thought that was great, the longer they played the more jump we got on the other people to get outta there.

And so it went, 38 Special and Foreigner was a great time at the 'ol fairgrounds that evening. 38 Special did deliver the better set, maybe because they had 3 original members to Foreigner's one. Foreigner did deliver the goods though, Jones knows how to pick talent and has surrounded himself with a very capable band. After the show we went to In N Out Burger so I could have another double double...cheeseburger :)

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