Joey newcastle 2014@ Newcastle City Hall, April 4 2014

It was a damning indictment of a strangely flat Friday night crowd that Foreigner singer Kelly Hansen was forced to get amongst the City Hall fans and cajole them into standing during the headline set.

But once the charismatic Californian had shaken up the stalls and reprimanded the punters, this slowburning triple header finally burst into life. 

Openers FM weren’t about to take on the paying customers – the melodic rock stalwarts were simply delighted that so many ticket holders had made the 7pm start and offered polite applause in response to a typically robust set.

And Joey Tempest must have been tempted to do a Hansen – even The Final Countdown failed to get the packed venue going – before cutting his losses and simply enjoying the moment.

Of course, as Hansen so eloquently put it, ‘most of [the crowd] are old as fuck’ and there’s no doubt the City Hall’s plush chairs are a comfortable alternative to the O2 Academy’s ground floor standing room or the Arena’s plastic seats.

And this was a long stretch for those of an AOR-inspired persuasion. Three bands in four hours might have been one of the best value packages of the year but listening to every note required stamina.

Stamina and staying power is what all three bands boast in abundance. FM arrived on Tyneside with yet another EP under their belts – Futurama – and a seven-song set proved they remain a live tour de force. Tough Love, Closer To Heaven and Burning My Heart Down were simply brilliant and it’s some time since a support band enjoyed such heartfelt – and fully deserved – standing ovation.

Reprising their role as Europe’s opening act from 25 years ago, FM did all they could to give Sweden’s finest a head start and frankly Tempest and co. deserved better from a tepid crowd.

Perhaps the majority of those present were too preoccupied with the prospect of Foreigner’s imminent power ballad assault to fully appreciate the quality of the band before them.

Mixing the pop sensibility of their chart-busting past with the harder edge of their blues rock present, Europe had carefully crafted the perfect career-spanning set squeezed into an hour. It’s just a shame so few seemed to notice – or care.

Rare and rousing outings for Carrie and Cherokee could and should have brought those old enough to recall the late 80s (and that was 90% of the audience) to the boil.

Tempest even slotted in mini tributes to David Coverdale and Sting within Superstitious and Rock The Night respectively – on both occasions there was only muted applause from those who understood and appreciated a canny nod to the North East’s musical heritage.

The Final Countdown did spark a late rally but Europe’s classy performance and commitment to the hard rock cause warranted much, much more from a Geordie crowd who should know better.

Maybe Hansen had been watching from the wings and maybe he just wasn’t prepared to face rows and rows of diffident punters uploading the odd video clip to Twitter and lazily tapping along to a slew of bona fide soft rock classics.

But whatever his reasons for jumping into the crowd it was during Cold As Ice that things finally warmed up. Hansen hadn’t sounded great during opener Double Vision and Head Games but his foray into the fan zone coincided with a marked improvement in the vocal department.

Fuelled by adrenaline, he was firing on all cylinders by the time Mick Jones finally made his grand entrance after Waiting For A [Guitarist] Like You. Together Foreigner’s main men drove a dazzling set forward – ably assisted by multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel. The band’s third guitarist also managed to do a turn on the keyboard, with a flute and, most impressively of all, on the saxophone: was this the best version ever of Urgent?

A few years ago Foreigner blew away the opposition at Newcastle Arena on a three-way bill boasting fellow AOR stalwarts Styx and Journey. Fast forward to 2014 and this star-studded line-up had lost none of its flair, professionalism and passion for the hits.

Bass player Jeff Pilson – a regular visitor to the Toon with former employees Dokken and Dio – was a bundle of irrepressible energy while Bruce Watson made light of Jones’ late entrance by dominating the fretboard early doors.

Keyboardist Michael Bluestein – who battled cancer in 2012 – and drummer Chris Frazier were both afforded opportunities to strut their stuff mid-set and it’s the wealth of talent on stage during a Foreigner show that makes this band such a compelling proposition.

A sparkling finale featuring Long, Long Way From Home, I Want To Know What Love Is and Hot Blooded brought the house down. And while there are those who would love to see Lou Gramm added to the Foreigner mix it’s hard to argue against Hansen’s qualities as the quintessential rock frontman.

Simon Rushworth

Picture courtesy of John Burrows @ishootgigs