By David Iozzia

The classic rock band Foreigner rolled into New Jersey recently and rocked Red Bank's historic Count Basie Theatre. Led by original guitarist Mick Jones and new vocalist Kelly Hansen, the band stormed their way through an awesome set of 14 Foreigner classics and a cover version of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop."

Mick Jones formed this new six-member version of Foreigner earlier this year, and they are back with a vengeance as they tour the United States this summer. After the show when I reminded Mick about Foreigner's New Jersey debut in 1977, he told me that he's not only glad to be back, but that he is back 28 years wiser. Joining Mick and Kelly Hansen (ex-Hurricane) in Foreigner's 2005 lineup are the heavy-hitting drummer Jason Bonham (U.F.O.), the ever-energetic bass guitarist Jeff Pilson (ex-Dokken), keyboardist Jeff Jacobs, and guitarist Tom Gimbel, who also plays saxophone and flute. According to Mick, "the tour is just incredible because of the new band. It has me back rockin' again. The energy in this band is great, it's a whole new band, and it sounds like it used to sound in the late 70's."

Watching and listening to Foreigner playing live in 2005 and remembering the original version I saw in concert in the late 70's and early 80's, I'd have to agree with Mick. I hope Foreigner fans, and music fans in general, attend this tour with open ears and an open mind. They will not be disappointed. Comparing original vocalist Lou Gramm to the new vocalist is difficult, as they each put a different stamp on the songs. Kelly Hansen did fine singing the power ballads "Waiting For A Girl Like You" and "I Want To Know What Love Is." He really made his mark on the heavier songs like "Hot Blooded" and "Dirty White Boy." Kelly is charismatic and very energetic, bouncing from one side of the stage to the other throughout the performance.

Tom Gimbel adds so much versatility to the lineup, handling lead guitar on "Cold As Ice," when Mick Jones puts down his guitar and plays piano. Tom's saxophone playing on "Urgent" is one of the concert's highlights. The band also plays the spacy "Starrider" from the 1977 debut album, during which Tom plays flute.

Their incredible set ended with strains of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" mixed into "Juke Box Hero." Foreigner returned to the stage for a three-song encore. Mick introduced the second song, dedicating it to and commenting on the 25th anniversary of the death of Led Zeppelin's drummer, the great John Bonham. Onstage, his son Jason Bonham pounded the beats of "Misty Mountain Hop," and a few rows behind me in the orchestra Jason's wife, son and daughter were dancing in the aisle and smiling. God bless you Bonzo, it must have made you proud.

Earlier that afternoon, Foreigner's stage crew raved about the acoustics in the theatre as they set up for the show later that night. One stage tech lamented to me that the prior performance was played in a "concrete box" type of venue. He was so excited about the look, sound and feel of the Count Basie Theatre that he phoned the band at their hotel mid-day bragging about the venue. Bassist Jeff Pilson shared the same sentiment backstage after the show. He asked me about the venue's history and couldn't wait to check out the theatre lobby and the structure's architecture later that night.

It was great chatting with my old friend Jeff after the show. He's a heavy metal veteran, having played many years with Dokken and DIO, so I had to ask him to comment on playing melodic rock for a change, instead of metal. Jeff smiled and replied, "Playing melodic rock in Foreigner is wonderful. It's groove-oriented and there's a lot of vocals, which is great for me. Foreigner is a harder rock band than people realize. Playing live, hard rock is my favorite. I mean I love metal, but hard rock is where I come from. For me playing in Foreigner, it's the songs, the band, the personnel, the vocals, and everything put together. This is so much fun for me! All three shows so far have been a blast; we're starting to get into a groove, and in a few more shows we'll really be in a groove."

Foreigner live in 2005 is a "must-attend" type of concert and the tour has just started. Red Bank's Count Basie Theatre is a "must-attend" type of venue. As I left the backstage area after the show, I teased Mick Jones, who promised not to make New Jersey wait 28 years before Foreigner plays here again. He reminded me that his band has Atlantic City and Bergen County shows later in the tour. When I asked Mick for one last comment of Foreigner's plans after the tour he stated, "We'll be writing new material, and we'll have a DVD out later in the year."

I can't wait!!