Foreigner has always been a band that pushed boundaries and embraced gimmicky sex appeal. 40 years later, on an anniversary tour most bands from their genre never made it to, they stayed true to form. We were treated to nearly painted on skinny jeans, mic stands and drum sticks thrown high, and a great light show.
The last time I saw Lou Gramm on stage was in the eighties, at Philadelphia’s Jam at JFK. With 100,000 raucous Foreigner fans packing the stadium, he commanded the huge crowd. Flash forward a few decades – on a balmy Orlando night, the setting was just a little more intimate, but the rock ‘n roll was timeless.
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Gramm and his new band headlined Velvet Sessions at Orlando’s Hard Rock hotel. The world’s greatest rock ‘n roll cocktail party is a different venue, one where the fans have a few drinks, grab some appetizers and catch rockers in a near-private setting. It’s always cool, but with Lou Gramm, the anticipation was clearly ratcheted up a notch. Most of the bands were once somewhat popular and had a few hits, but precious few had the hugely successful past that Gramm has.
The diminutive rocker clearly still has a passion for performing and on this night, he delivered a great show. I’ve been to a handful of Velvet Session shows in the past and it’s always a fun atmosphere, but on this night there was electricity in the air. The show which was originally scheduled earlier in the year was rescheduled for July after Gramm experienced medical issues.
His voice might not have the same broad range it once possessed, and he definitely moves around the stage with a little less reckless abandon than the eighties model, but he still delivered a powerful engaging set to the packed crowd.
Over the course of the seventy-five minute set, Gramm played his solo hits, all of the classic Foreigner tunes and a few deeper cuts. He also threw in a handful of nice surprises that made the night memorable for the long time fans in attendance. (See the setlist below this review)
Gramm took the stage decked out in black, and Kicked the night off with the title track from Foreigner’s second album, “Double Vision,” After that, it was a non-stop journey through Gramm’s ample song-writing catalogue, and a set list that kept the fans engaged throughout. Early highlights included his solo hit “Ready Or Not” and an electric version of “Cold As Ice,” where the crowd sang along nicely.
Things ratcheted up a bunch when he invited out a ten piece choir to provide the background vocals for a beautiful version of “I Want To Know What Love Is.” He then invited sax player and Melbourne native, Carl Lewis to join him on stage, where the crowd was treated to the seldom played “Long, Long Way From Home” and its underrated sax pieces. Lewis tore it up, and then absolutely nailed one of rock music’s most iconic sax solos in a searing version of “Urgent.”
The highlight of the night was one of my personal favorites., “Jukebox Hero.” Gramm sounded great in a song that surprisingly translated well in the small setting. The band absolutely nailed it, but Gramm absolutely shined with lyrics that seemed as timely as ever: “Couldn’t get a ticket, it was a sold out show. Heard the roar of the crowd, he could picture the scene… Now he needs to keep rockin.’ He just can’t stop. Gotta keep on rockin’…”
The band sounded great throughout the show and offered non-stop energy. The highlight was the drumming. Lou’s brother, Ben is touring with the band, and it’s certainly not a charity act. Ben is an uber-talented jazz drummer and kept the band tight all evening. As great as he sounded, everyone was more excited when he stepped aside and let Dennis Elliott jump behind the skins.
Elliott, the original Foreigner drummer joined the band for their encore, a searing version of “Hot Blooded,” that sent the crowd into the warm night thoroughly satisfied.
The Velvet Sessions crowd was comprised primarily of 40 and 50-somethings, most of whom left thoroughly satisfied. I actually bumped into two separate couples from upstate New York, who saw Lou play with Rochester band Black Sheep in the early seventies before he teamed with Mick Jones to join Foreigner. Cool stuff.
Simply put, it was a special night for a small group of fans, who saw a rock ‘n roll legend up close and personal. If he’s in your town any time soon, this one is a can’t miss show.
If you were there, leave your thoughts on the show in our comments section.
Double Vision (Foreigner song)
Ready or Not
Feels Like The First Time (Foreigner song)
Just Between You and Me
Cold as Ice (Foreigner song)
That Was Yesterday(Foreigner song)
I Want to Know What Love Is(Foreigner song)
Long Way From Home (Foreigner song)
Urgent (Foreigner song)
Blue Morning, Blue Day (Foreigner song)
Juke Box Hero (Foreigner song)