Question: Who organizes a rock concert and has only chairs in the arena? Who invites one of the biggest arena-rock bands of the 80′s for a performance and expects the audience to be seated throughout the gig? Answer: The ‘organizers’ of the Foreigner concert.
The much-awaited Foreigner + Niladri Kumar concert was terribly scheduled for one. The BJP to celebrate their 1000th day in power had organized a large scale rally in Palace Grounds, where the said gig was to be held. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was also a fish mela (!) and few other programs happening at Palace Grounds. This meant that the concert was shafted (no, I did not mean to say shifted) to a smaller closed arena within Palace Grounds. The traffic, within a 4km radius of the venue was chaotic to say the least. Now all of this would have been all but forgotten had the concert lived up to its expectations. Alas, the chairs.
I unfortunately caught only the final song in Niladri Kumar’s performance. The dude can really shred on his electric sitar! The crowd, presumably late due to the traffic, was just trickling in. I noticed that the rows of chairs closest to the stage were all reserved for VIPs. This had the feel of one of those pretentious ‘by invite only’ jazz shows that seem to happen often at five-star hotels in the city.
Foreigner appeared rather abruptly on stage and played ‘Double Vision’ to a completely seated, sedate crowd. This obviously affected the band as they were just going through the motions of completing their setlist rather than perform. They listlessly played ‘Dirty White Boy’ and a couple of their other numbers to the half-full/ half-empty arena. The sound was quite horrid and barely audible at the back of the arena.
Fortunately, the venue started filling up and junta ditched the chairs and started showing some sort of enthusiasm. To their credit, they did seem familiar with the band’s music. The band launched into a brilliant rendition of the very Rainbow-esque ‘Starrider‘, a song off their self-titled debut album. I confess to not having heard the song before and it really impressed me with its rock n’ roll riff and soaring solo. The legend Mick Jones, founder and guitarist of Foreigner got a chance to showcase his impressive guitar skills with his extended solo on this song although Kelley Hanson’s vocals couldn’t quite match that of Lou Gramm. They played ‘Feels Like The First Time‘ before launching into what probably is their most recognized song. The guys and their respective girlfriends/wives sang ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ along with the band. Foreigner didn’t deviate too much from the studio versions of their songs and seemed content with delivering a solid performance showcasing their hits rather than playing their lesser known but not necessarily bad songs.
The band then predictably played their encore consisting of ‘Hot Blooded’ and ‘Jukebox Hero’. Few people in the crowd actually fell for the good-old trick of the band leaving the stage and returning for the encore! The performance wasn’t spectacular but was satisfying as they managed to coax the crowd to sing along to these two songs. Again, the impatient audience scurried to the exit even before the band could take their final bow. Quite pitiful, really.
Thanks to some bad decision-making by the organizers, the gig was not as fun as I thought it would be. Instead it had the air of a snobbish, exclusive event that would be featured on Page 3 of a supplement like The Bangalore Times. On this fateful day, I realized that while playing live, bands always feed off the energy from the audience and it took a ‘Foreigner’ to show me that.