Preview by Joshua Maloni
Mick Jones must pat himself on the back every day.
To have found a singer to take over as the frontman in Foreigner -- someone who sounds like Lou Gramm, but has stronger pipes and less mileage -- was quite an accomplishment.
If Foreigner's founder and lead guitarist had only done that, then he and his bandmates would've been in great shape, capable of touring for years to come behind a gazillion hits (including "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Urgent," "Double Vision," "Say You Will" and "Waiting For a Girl Like You").
But Jones did something even better.
He found Hurricane's Kelly Hansen, a singer both musically gifted and interested in taking Foreigner to the next level.
"Well, you know ... (Mick) has told me many times and he has said publicly to the audience that he is very happy that I'm in the band, and I'm very thankful for that," a somewhat embarrassed Hansen said in a phone interview.
"I think it takes someone with a lot of energy to really just punch these songs out live; you can't just barely get it done," he said. "It just won't work. You have to really power your way through this. It's an incredible burst of ups and downs emotionally, and also sonically, with these tunes.
"I think it's serendipitous that we were able to come together at this time and move forward together."
Unlike so many other acts from the '60s, '70s and '80s with a new lead singer and no new material, Foreigner continues to make music - and good music, at that. The band's 2009 release, "Can't Slow Down," is as good, if not better, than anything Foreigner compiled under Gramm's watch.
Hansen said he and Jones had a long talk before they joined forces. They both agreed that Hansen would be the exclusive lead singer, and that the band would work around-the-clock to create relevant music and incredible live sets.
"My hope was that we would never do a show that was below a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10," Hansen said. "I think we've really accomplished that."
"Mick and I are from the same school," he said. "It's like we're out there pounding the boards old school and putting on a show. My goal is to get that crowd, and to make people have a great time."
When Foreigner returns to Artpark on Aug. 17 to headline the free "Tuesday in the Park" concert series, the band will offer a mix of classic songs and new, soon-to-be favorites.
"We have the new record, ‘Can't Slow Down,' and we'll be incorporating a couple of new songs into the live show. But, the rest of it will be, of course, full of the classic great stuff that people are familiar with," Hansen said. "We like to have an interactive show. I like to say we like to play with the crowd, not to the crowd. That's what I think people enjoy about coming to see us. We have a lot of energy, and we have a lot of fun, and it's a great musical kind of evening."
Foreigner's mission these days is clear: "Unlike many other bands, we're not trying to be a previous version of this band," Hansen said. "This is the ongoing, forward evolution of this band."
While Mick Jones' band started changing members back in 1979, "There was a situation that needed to change," Hansen said of the early 2000s.
In was in 2002 that Jones decided to take a break and re-evaluate his band. Gramm had left to pursue a solo career, and Jones was unsure if he wanted to continue touring with Foreigner.
It was at that point that musical colleagues, including drummer Jason Bonham, encouraged him to return to the stage. Jones agreed, but with a caveat.
"In revamping this band and putting this band out there, it was not trying to just cash in on the old stuff, and go out there and kind of phone in some shows and make some cash," Hansen said. "Mick was telling me from the very beginning that he wanted to move forward with this band, and do new music with this band."
Hansen was the perfect choice to take over for Gramm in 2005.
"I come from a real pop and R&B background," he said, noting he grew up listening to Aretha, Gladys and Ray Charles.
So, it wasn't as if Foreigner was cramming a metalhead into its lead singer slot.
"I think that's why it was such a natural fit for me to be in this band," Hansen said.
While the transition for the band was seamless, Foreigner still had to reintroduce itself to fans before the next chapter could begin.
"We had to go around the entire world -- five continents, 50 countries, over 600 shows -- to let the world know that this lineup was really strong and really valid," Hansen said.
Doing that slowed the recording process, but that was OK with the band.
"I think us spending that four-and-a-half-years together, working together, being with each other almost every day -- every year -- really helped us to understand and to know what it is to make a new record," Hansen said.
In between shows in 2008 and 2009, the members of Foreigner traveled back and forth between U.S. coasts to create "Can't Slow Down," a three-disc set that includes the new album, a remix of classic Foreigner songs, and a live DVD.
"It takes a very energetic commitment and focus of mind to say I want to continue to move forward musically and artistically," Hansen said. "That's where Mick is. And I say thank God for that. We're not just out there painting by the numbers. We're actually a real band, doing real stuff, writing new tunes, going out there and trying to conquer the world every day."
Foreigner performs Tuesday at Artpark. Free Henry! opens the 6:30 p.m. show.