Crowded into one of Manchester’s most beautiful venues, the grandiose O2 Apollo, John Parr’s opening set feels short but sweet as his acoustic rock warms the crowd. The audience is still filling their seats and grabbing beers as John’s witty stage talk entices the crowd to listen up. At times it feels almost like an intimate show rather than a sold-out rock concert as he chats to the crowd about his youth and raising a family. This doesn’t stop the crowd from belting out his hit single “St. Elmo’s Fire” as it feels like many of them are transported back to their younger days. Despite the stage feeling empty with just him and his guitar, the songs speak for themselves with their witty, emotional lyrics and simple melodies.
Though for some tonight is a night of nostalgia, the fresh young talent of Joanne Shaw Taylor breathes energy and enthusiasm into the rock and blues genre. Her awe-inspiring guitar solos and blues riffs make everyone wish that they were as cool as her. Her nonchalant stage presence and tight backing band effortlessly glide through her set. Standout songs include “Diamonds in the dirt” and “Tried, tested and true” which show that from all areas of her back catalogue Joanne can tell even the die-hardest of blues fans a thing about the blues. She catches my attention but for some of the crowd, you can tell that the newbies of the genre just don’t cut it for them.
The crowd is mismatched between hardcore gig goers and people who loved Foreigner back in the day but this doesn’t curb their energy as they’ve clearly been saving themselves and as the lights go down it feels like I’m transported to the eighties; screaming women and rowdy men all rise from their seats for the arrival of Foreigner. They open with 1978 hit single “Double Vision” and throw the stage into life. The singing, the rhythm, the guitars, everything is perfectly timed as if they haven’t skipped a beat all these years. Foreigner’s current tour is celebrating 40 years of Foreigner from 1977-2017 and with an impressive arsenal of songs behind them the whole night is hit after hit. They quickly launch into “Cold of Ice” with its powerful opening lyrics and melodic harmonies that sends the crowd wild. Lead singer, Kelly Hanson shows off his impressive frontman abilities here as he runs into the crowd during the bridge of the song, jumping onto to the seats and walking through the row right in front of me. He gets everyone clapping and rocking along all whilst maintaining those pitch-perfect high notes. His flirtatious smile and charm lead perfectly into their song “Dirty white boys” which throws in the little bit of sleaziness we all love from the era. These men do not just know how to rock though as they turn it down for a beautiful acoustic rendition of “Say you will” that sees the crowd swaying in the aisles. Foreigner bring out founding member Mick Jones on guitar, for the rest of the set in what feels like a special moment for the band as they harmonize together. From crooning ballads to dirty rock n roll Foreigner have it all and truly put on an impressive rock show running across the stage, despite their age and the fact that this is a 40th-anniversary tour. Bassist Jeff Pilson is a force to be reckoned with, as his energy never slows leaving him drenched in sweat by the end of the set and Kelly’s connection with the crowd makes you feel like family as if we are all a part of Foreigner. The drum solo gives the band what I’m sure was a much-needed respite before they launch into the iconic “Jukebox Hero”. Kelly stands centre stage on the back ramp lit brightly, a powerful image for the audience showing that these guys can really put on a show. The band quickly returned to the stage for the encore, eager to give the crowd more as they bring on a local school choir to sing “I wanna know what love is”. Though it feels a little extravagant the children’s voices add beautifully to the mix of the song and throughout the crowd there are lovers and friends intertwined who I’m sure have their own special meaning attached to this song. This is why Foreigner feel so relevant even after 40 years, their songs are timeless, resonating in the people’s ears and their emotions. By the final song, I’m surprised Foreigner have any hits left but they pull out another timeless classic, “Hot Blooded” to end the night. This final frenzy of classic, guitar-heavy, rock n’ roll leaves everyone with a smile, dancing in the aisles like its 1978 once again.
Review by Georgia Pickles. Photos © David Pickles.