15 Dec 2018
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  • Gig Review: Foreigner & the ANU Orchestra @ Claudelands Arena, Hamilton - 01/11/2018

Gig Review: Foreigner & the ANU Orchestra @ Claudelands Arena, Hamilton - 01/11/2018

02 Nov 2018 // A review by Alex Moulton

The rain had finally given up for the day, though the wind remained as the scores of patrons headed into Claudelands Arena. Announcements over the speaker system announced the show would be commencing soon, so everyone was rushing around trying to find their seats. The arena had rows upon rows set up along the floor space as well as the grandstands, and unfortunately the venue didn’t quite have enough staff on board to help people find their seats, leading to a game of musical chairs as some people gave up, sat down anywhere and were then forced out of their seats when the people that had bought that seat turned up. They did well for the situation that they had, however, and with some reasonably comfy seats and ample legroom, everyone awaited the beginning of the show.

A few minutes past 8pm, the 18-piece orchestra from the ANU School of Music (Australian National University) made their way on stage in a single file, to a series of cheers and catcalling from the audience. Fronted by Canberra Conductor Kenneth Lampl, and with minimal fanfare, they started in Overture. With a huge lighting display of spotlights careening around the venue, the cellist, percussionist and double bass had use of their feature spots near the front of stage wowing the crowd with not just their technical musicianship, but their stage presence to. The cellist especially, was moving about on stage as he played, spinning his instrument as if he was dancing with and wooing his partner.

Due to the size and shape of the venue, the sound was predominantly coming from the stacks above the side of stage, rather than from the direction of the orchestra themselves, which was initially disconcerting, but was quick enough forgotten as you watched the orchestra play away. There came a point where one did wonder if Foreigner was actually going to come out, or whether we had tickets to a Foreigner tribute show, but then they came to the stage to much applause; Mick Jones, Thom Gimbel and Bruce Watson on guitars, Jeff Pilson on bass, Michael Bluestein on the keyboard, Chris Fazier on the drums, and of course lead vocalist Kelly Hansen came out with his microphone stand held above his head. Hansen has of course been doing lead vocals since 2005 for the group.

The collection of musicians jumped straight into Blue Morning, Blue Day, and right off the bat you can tell the show is going to be amazing. Hansen’s voice was impeccably smooth and the energy that he had on stage was infectious as he ran from side to side trying to get as close as he could to the audience. Moving into Cold As Ice, the song began with a spotlight on the keys and the song is already so popular that a large group of people have already ditched their seats and moved right up to the stage to get closer. By the end of the song, there were at least four rows of people running all the way along the stage. But that wasn’t close enough for Hansen as he jumped down from the stage and ran a lap around the floor.

Three songs in and they were already pulling out Waiting For A Girl Like You. The set had been full-energy and full-bodied right from the start and the setlist was whizzing by in no time. Whenever you get an orchestral/band show, there is always the question of whether there was a proper balance. Did the presence of the orchestra actually improve the sound of the band? Did it add something to the songs? After hearing the volume of Overture coming through the stacks, I thought I was in for a treat, a true hybridisation of rock and classical, but unfortunately that wasn’t entirely the case.

There were certainly a number of tracks where the ANU shone, predominantly on the set-starting pieces Overture and Prelude, where they were the only presence performing, but they did also shine during the instrumental section of the show, performing Say You Will and The Flame Still Burns (a track which Mick Jones introduced and explained the origin of). Outside of those four tracks though, Foreigner were in a league of their own and overpowered the orchestra throughout most of the set. When you have maybe 10 violinists, and their sound is drowned out by a single acoustic guitar, you can tell the levels are not quite right. The only time the orchestra truly managed to hold its own with Foreigner was when the horn section was brought into play, and it added great nuances to the “Soul” portion of the set. Whether the inconsistent levelling was to ensure the focus stayed on Foreigner or not, it took away from what could have been a life-changing musical event. Instead, we have to settle with it just being an extraordinary musical event.   

Prelude acted as an intermission for the band, allowing them breathing time while keeping the audience entertained, before they moved into the second set. Interestingly, the first half disappeared so quickly; the 6/7 tracks flew by in what felt like 15 minutes. A true display of how high the energy level was, when time loses meaning. Unfortunately, the second half wasn’t able to carry itself in quite the same way.

Feels Like The First Time was incredibly popular, with most of the audience standing in their seating now, but as the set continued through Fool For You Anyway, Dirty White Boy, and Urgent, the songs were gradually getting stretched longer and longer with solos and banter, which while entertaining, did remove a lot of the intensity that the first act had held. Hansen’s banter started to meander and drag as the fans waited for the final tracks to begin. Before getting into the final tracks, the cellist completed a solo passage (a cadenza if you will), before a rendition of Jukebox Hero.

For the encore performance, they played through the classic I Want To Know What Love Is, Hansen calling for the audience to put their arms around anyone nearby, to share the love, and to pull out their phones and lighter, before the orchestra filed off-stage and the band played through the last track Hot Blooded with only the conductor on stage with a pair of maracas to assist.

To all concerned, it was a brilliant night. The ANU 18-piece orchestra gave it their all and looked like they were going to destroy their instruments with how much energy they were exhibiting, even headbanging during their downtime. But in the end, the pacing was sub-optimal. The first half was eye-catching, and infectious, and the second half (while technically sound) just didn’t grab as much as it could have. A heartier presence of the orchestra in the final mix would have really made my day, but at the end of the day, everyone was there to see Foreigner.

An amazing show from the band that have been around 41 years and counting. A surprisingly modest band that heaped their gratitude’s on the crowd and their fellow musicians, and an exemplary performance of showmanship from vocalist Hansen.

Photos by Chris Zwaagdyk/Zed Pics

 

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