Classic rock doesn't have to be face-melting guitar, booming bass and five-minute drum solos. There might be something sophisticated, complicated and, well, classical in the KQDS playlist, right?
A new-look Foreigner plowed its heavy rock catalog head-on into an 18-piece orchestra for nearly two hours Wednesday night at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Symphony Hall. The show, one of just nine stops in the United States, turned out to be a unique and highly entertaining night of music for the nearly sold out crowd.
Call the show a rockestra.
"It's been a great challenge and very interesting to us," singer Kelly Hansen told the audience during a pre-concert introduction. "But it's still a rock show."
The current Foreigner lineup is led by its only founding member: guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones. Teaming with orchestra leader Dave Eggar, Jones reworked 12 of the band's biggest hits, putting a fresh coat of paint on songs that became a soundtrack for a generation.
For example, "Feels Like the First TIme," the band's 1977 debut single, still had the slow-motion guitar crunch and twirling synthesizers but the backing orchestra added a more heroic dimension. Another early hit, "Cold As Ice," replaced a piano line with strings. The crowd didn't seem to mind, as everyone was on their feet.
The orchestra, perched behind the band on risers, featured a harp, a horn and a dancing conductor. Cellos spun like tops and a violin player pumped her fist after a soaring introduction to the rocker "Double Vision."
Of course there was the microphone swinging and dueling guitar solos expected at a classic rock show, but this was not 1982. The band played warm and heartfelt acoustic versions of two songs while seated on white bar chairs.
Hansen, wearing a pink sport coat, white shirt and puffy black scarf, may have looked like Steven Tyler, but his voice was as big and smooth as original Foreigner singer Lou Gramm. He jumped into the crowd, ran across the stage and supplied a rock 'n' roll spark all night.
Midway through the show, Jones explained, in his proper British accent, how his stepson, red-hot pop producer Mark Ronson, helped rearrange the song "Fool For You Anyway." A five-piece horn section delivered a roaring backdrop to the song and brought the total number of musicians on the stage to 29.
Of course, not every experiment works. Set closer "Jukebox Hero" received an overlong orchestral introduction complete with a misplaced trumpet solo and felt a little too much like it belonged in a Broadway musical.
The encore made up for it though.
A Duluth Denfeld High School vocal choir called Maroon 16, which won an online voting contest, backed the band on its classic 1984 chart topper "I Want to Know What Love Is." Instead of black gowns and a formal choir presentation, the group dressed in plaid shirts and swayed through the instantly recognizable power ballad. The crowd joined in as the uplifting chorus was repeated multiple times.
"Thank you for letting us do something different," said Hansen, as the band took a group bow to close the night.