Foreigner plays Starplex Pavilion on Friday, Aug. 18.
Over the course of 40 years, Foreigner has made several key contributions to the classic rock canon. If you’re driving in your car with the radio tuned to a rock station, you’re likely to soon encounter “Urgent” “Hot Blooded” or “Juke Box Hero." A slower ballad like “I Wanna Know What Love Is” conjures up memories of Pac-Man, VCRs and Miami Vice episodes.
“Yeah, this band really hit the jackpot when it came to writing hit songs,” Foreigner multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel says. “I’m seeing all sorts of age groups when I look out into the audience during shows. It illustrates to me that Foreigner songs have stood the test of time and are still going strong.”
Gimbel is also going strong. He joined Foreigner in 1995 after a six-year stint touring with Aerosmith, with whom he performed at Woodstock '99. But Gimbel has since found a true musical partner in Mick Jones, the last original member of Foreigner still out on the road full time.
“Playing with Mick is a huge thrill. His enthusiasm is unmatched, and his willingness to let us crank things up in terms of volume is great by me," Gimbel says. “He’s so supportive of letting us as musicians do our thing. When I get to step out on sax and hit the high note on ‘Urgent,’ it’s like walking a tightrope with no net."
Gimbel has played thousands of shows with Foreigner. And that’s a good thing because he’s been tasked with tackling several instruments each night on stage. Most often, it's guitar, saxophone and keys.
“I love the challenge because I have what you call AADD, adult attention deficit disorder,” he says, laughing. “It keeps me busy running around the stage and constantly switching instruments. I’m constantly multitasking between notes and chords. It’s like speaking the same language with a different accent.”
Many classic rock bands are going through the motions now after decades of touring. This isn’t the case with Foreigner. Gimbel exhausts himself with his nightly routine.
“We don’t use any prerecorded backing tracks, fancy light designs or acrobatic dancers. We’re just an old-fashioned rock band," he says. “It’s so much fun and pure, but it demands that I pay constant attention to what I’m doing. I don’t have the luxury of letting my mind wander.”
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While nostalgia can be a strong selling point for legacy acts like Foreigner, it can only take things so far. To keep audiences interested, a band needs to continue to work on its craft. And that's a burden Gimbel, Jones and company are happy to shoulder.
“It’s a nice problem to have too many hit songs. I’m always telling Mick that he wrote too many good songs," he laughs. “It’s a blast, though, and we’ve really picked up so much momentum even these past few years. Every night is just pure rock 'n’ roll fun."
Foreigner, with Cheap Trick, Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, Starplex Pavilion, 3839 S. Fitzhugh Ave., tickets $22 and up at livenation.com.