Live At The Rainbow '78 (DVD)

Foreigner

Eagle Vision / Universal, 2019

http://www.foreigneronline.com/

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/20/2019

Arena rock aficionados Foreigner formed in 1977 around guitarist/songwriter Mick Jones and singer Lou Gramm, its initial lineup also including Dennis Elliott (drums), Ed Gagliari (bass), Al Greenwood (keys), and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald (guitar/keys/sax/flute). The band would achieve substantial success with its first four albums, moving from anthemic if predictable rock to the gooiest of power ballads even as its rarely-stable lineup repeatedly splintered and morphed, with Jones the only consistent presence throughout.

Live At The Rainbow ’78 turns the clock back to early days, capturing the founding lineup in concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre on their first international headlining tour. In the course of the relatively brief 12-song show, the band runs through the entire track list of its self-titled debut album, supplementing with two preview cuts from its then-forthcoming second LP Double Vision and enough jamming and vamping to stretch the proceedings to 75 minutes. Despite the age and relative obscurity of the show, the quality of the film is good, with the limited shot variety (it seems they had just four or five cameras) finessed with solid editing and direction by Derek Burbidge.

As for the show itself, well.

It’s true that time has a way of rendering the past as cartoonishly odd. But there’s more than just time at work here. Is the show professionally and enthusiastically played by skilled musicians? Yes. Are fans of Foreigner’s particularly uncomplicated brand of arena rock likely to find this DVD an interesting and entertaining artifact of the band’s early days? No doubt. Is it worth a chuckle or two observing the fashions of the day, from the exuberantly displayed chest hair to the painted-on bell bottoms? For sure. Still, harmless as it is in isolation, this ultimately feels like a primer for “Where Rock Went Wrong,” a stew of labored, overwrought bombast in service of mediocre songwriting.

One of the rare high points occurs right out of the gate as opener “Long Long Way From Home” offers propulsive momentum, with a snappy sax break punctuating the bridge. Unfortunately, it leads into two of the most egregious songs on the group’s self-titled debut, the pathetic “I Need You,” with its vaguely absurd co-dependent histrionics, and “Woman Oh Woman” a pretty enough ballad whose chorus reads like a cry for help: “Woman oh woman / Don’t bury me alive / Just make me feel / I’ve the right to survive.” The fact that the swaggering, open-shirted Jones introduces the song by dedicating it to his mother ought to bring a smile to the face of any psychology PhD candidate still searching for a thesis topic.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Initial momentum spent, the band regroups with a spirited run at “Hot Blooded,” a tune that’s dumb as rocks, but lit up by an undeniable guilty-pleasure hook. “The Damage Is Done” leaves little impression before they wade into hit single “Cold As Ice,” tacking on a big melodramatic opening before Jones asserts pride of authorship by stepping up to a stray downstage keyboard to play the song’s insistent two-note lead riff. In case you’re wondering if anyone else is in on the joke, Gramm appears to be chewing gum through the whole song, while Greenwood takes a moment in the midst of his synth solo to wink at the camera.

Mid-show standout “Starrider” is one of two places where the band conspicuously stretches out. Jones takes lead vocals on the silly early verses before he and Gramm team up for the nonsensical sci-fi pastiche chorus. Things get interesting for a bit after the band exhausts the original three-minute tune as first McDonald (on flute) and then Greenwood (on organ) deliver extended, imaginative solos. But of course bandleader Jones can’t leave his henchmen unanswered, doubling down with a flailing, dubious, hey-wait-look-at-ME guitar solo. Meanwhile, former drummer Gramm keeps busy by grabbing a pair of sticks and manning a second kit tucked in next to Elliott’s.

For the also-premiering “Double Vision” the group tightens things up considerably—not as tight as Gramm’s pants, to be sure, but that would be asking a lot. Closing out the main set, “Feels Like The First Time” is the show’s clear highlight, played straight up and firmly, its indisputably catchy hooks sinking well in as Gramm wails away up front.

The triple encore begins with “Fool For You Anyway,” a sweet, bluesy number where the band shows admirable restraint for once. A moment later, though, we’re back to over-the-top bombast with the ridiculous hard rock pose “At War With The World.” There’s enough macho bluster in this song to power a gaming convention, but the song itself never rises above arena-rock cheese.

Show-ending nightcap “Headknocker” opens with a Dennis Elliott drum solo. When Gramm strides back to center stage a moment later to begin unironically assaulting a cowbell, you know you’re in for… something. “Don’t let me say it again,” he cries over and over at mid-song, by which point you’re inclined to oblige. But if you did, you might miss the ensuing extended breakdown where Gramm again retreats to the drum set as bassist Gagliardi—the first original member to leave about a year later—grabs a mic and tries so hard for so long to rile up the crowd that you end up feeling bad for him.

The band—each of whom appears to have realized over time that there was no real space for them in a group led by Jones—plays well enough throughout, but McDonald and Greenwood in particular seem undermatched by their assignments, making it no surprise they would depart soon after Gagliardi. Meanwhile, up front, the man in charge struts every note he plays like it’s the climax to “Stairway To Heaven.”

For a summation, let’s turn to Jeopardy for inspiration. Answer: Shows like the one captured in Foreigner’s Live At The Rainbow ’78. Question: What makes Spinal Tap funny?

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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