(Live Review) LOU GRAMM ALL STARS BAND - Illinois, 11/04/23
The Beard & little Johnny
Good day Beard and Little Johnny followers, here we are again with another concert review. Tonight, will see us attending show #64 and bands #277-278 on our yearlong The Reviews Never Stop Tour. When I told Little Johnny that tonight we would be covering Lou Gramm, he looked at me and said “Who?” I had to explain that Lou Gramm was a singer from the 1970’s who got his start performing in a band called Black Sheep. After two albums, Black Sheep caught on in 1975 as the openers for KISS until an automobile accident ended their tour on Christmas Eve 1975.
Sometimes, as they say, fate shuts a door and opens a window, being unable to continue with Black Sheep, Lou Gramm accepted an offer from former Spooky Tooth guitarist Mick Jones to sing lead on his newly formed band Foreigner. At this point Johnny asked, “Didn’t we already see them?” “Yes, but not with any original members on stage. This time we are going to see the guy who “actually” sang all those songs when they were new.” When Johnny asked why then wasn’t that guy still singing with the actual Foreigner, The Beard, (being the musical historian), explained that the old chestnut “musical differences” caused a falling out between Gramm and Jones, and Gramm quit in 1990.
Gramm rejoined Foreigner in 1992 (after a stint in rehab and a conversion to born again Christianity) and although they had a bit of an on again off again relationship, remained all the way until 2003. Since then, Gramm has toured with both solo acts as The Lou Gramm Band, and Lou Gramm the voice of Foreigner with a five-piece backing band.
Johnny said, “So let me get this straight. We have already watched a band called Foreigner who didn’t have any original Foreigner members, and now we are going to watch the guy who WAS the singer but isn’t anymore with another bunch of musicians who were also never even in Foreigner?” “You know little dude when you put it that way it does sound kind of dumb. But it is at the Arcada.” “Fine,” he said, “You are buying the drinks, AND I am booking the next show we cover because you have apparently forgotten we review for "The METAL Decibel” not “The Geezer Rock Tribune.”
Johnny has been getting temperamental as it has been a long busy year of reviewing. The Beard “gently” reminded him ‘It’s actually The “Mighty” Decibel little dude’. He grumbled something about semantics and wandered away to get ready. (Ed: Hmm, The Metal Decibel does sound quite good ...)
So here we are sitting in our seats at the Arcada. Johnny has his Whitechapel Martini and The Beard is sipping his Angels Envy Rye on the rocks as we await another round of Beard nostalgic 70’s-80’s classic rock fare.
First off though, were openers Voyage, a five-piece cover band who opened with “Ritual” which wasn’t bad. Unfortunately, that was to be their high point. The Journey cover of “Stone in Love” was vocally a stone’s throw (off a cliff) from Steve Perry, (or even Arnel Paneda for that matter). Admittedly, the guitar work, while no Neil Schon, was not bad though.
Boston’s, “Smoking,” was a sloppy mess. The best I can say is you did know it was supposed to be Boston (By way of Antarctica). “Roll with the Changes" made The Beard actually long for REO Speedwagon.
At this point, Little Johnny looked over, sipped deeply on his Whitechapel martini, and shook his head saying “Beard, this is like a jukebox with recycled parts.” “Right you are little dude.”
Voyage's between songs rap redefined sophomoric. “Too Much Time on My Hands" followed, and my thought was that somewhere Tommy Shaw weeps. “Here I Go Again” was next and The Beard had to think, here-we-go-again-into-Saturday-night-bar-band covers. On the other hand, this band may have been a genius opener as they were making Lou Gramm look good before he sang a single note.
“Dream On” was a clunky trudge to the inevitable question of can the singer hit the big note? Saving you all the aspects of having to sit through it, the answer was surprisingly not bad. He did it in his register, not Steven Tylers, but at least it was a high note. They next went into “Riding the Storm Out.” Admittedly. I did not hate the ending solo. I thought they had finally finished their set with “Separate Ways,” and by this point the Beard dearly wanted to head a separate way from wherever Voyage was going, but no, they had one more number committing musical necrophilia on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll.”
While Johnny just shook his head and said “Beard, I’m sorry.” Next to us, the gentleman sitting there not only said to his wife, “That was a good cover band”, but was also indignant with The Beard for taking notes throughout assuming I was “texting” through the entire show and thus “ruining his band watching experience.” “No Sir, actually Voyage ruined everyone’s band watching experience.” (Ed: I'm not sure why you subject yourself to this kinda stuff. It's not like we get you into these ones for free!)
Voyage benefited greatly from my “no grade for cover bands” policy. Cover band, No grade.
MR. LOU GRAMM AND HIS ALL-STAR BAND
Coming out of the gate with “Feels Like the First Time” was certainly ironic as I imagine for Mr. Gramm it was probably about the five thousand and first time he has sung that number.
Lou is old and he looked it. Unlike say a Glen Hughes or Rob Halford, Gramm has lost a lot of his vocal range and power. It is sometimes still there, but often not. Listening to him is like riding a roller coaster. There are moments you tap into a great thrill and others where your stomach just sort of feels queasy.
“Double Vision" and "Long Long Way from Home” followed, and although Gramm alters his timing and cadence on the verses (rendering them differently delivered than straight off the recording), I do not detract for that because they are HIS songs so he can play with how he delivers them to some extent. Gramm solo track “Just Between You and Me” was fine as I was not familiar with it.
The set hit its high point (in my opinion) with “Blue Morning Blue Day" & "Cold As Ice.” Particularly good keyboard work on “Cold as Ice” by Jeff Jacobs. On the other hand, the drum solo by Gramm’s son Ben Gramm suffered from two issues, one, Ben Gramm played in an enclosed fiberglass drum cage which I understand since protecting Lou’s hearing is a valid reason to do that, but it does not make a particularly good visual. Two, The Beard was only three days removed from watching the single best drum performance of 2023 courtesy of Tools Danny Carey and comparatively a Ben Gramm solo just did not move me. (Ed: So Gramm's son was part of the "all-star" backing band? Maybe they should be called Lou Gramm's Nepotism Band.)
“Midnight Blue” ,another Gramm solo original, was pleasant. The man after all could write a hit single. “That was Yesterday” was a nice nod to a more “deep cut” type of Foreigner song. “Head Games” was also not bad. Gramm told a funny story about how “Waiting for a Girl Like You” was number two on the top 40 billboard for seventeen weeks. Each week being bested by "Let’s Get Physical” from Olivia Newton John. When ONJ finally fell to #2, “Waiting” fell to #3 the same week. I enjoyed the story. I tolerated the song. (Ed: Oh no - does that mean an ONJ cover band review is soon forthcoming?!)
Coming out of that though was a great version of “Urgent.” While watching Foreigner 2.0 earlier this year, the Beard lamented that the band eschewed an actual sax player and did that solo through the synthesizer which rendered it lame. Gramm made no such mistake letting Scott Gilman wail away on an extended solo that took him off stage and throughout the Arcada bringing the crowd to its feet in applause. (Ed: Who does he think he is? Angus Young?)
Eventually though it had to happen. After discussing how exciting it was to receive the call from their manager at the time informing the guys in Foreigner that the song “I Want to Know What Love Is” had hit billboard number one in 1984, of course they played it with extended crowd participation. The Beard was in the middle of a row and therefore showed deference to the many other fans who loved this song by not heading to the bathroom. I did tune out mentally until it was over.
For the encores, Mr. Gramm did a very nice “Jukebox Hero” where, unlike Kelly Hansen earlier this year, Gramm actually remembered all the lyrics correctly. The band concluded with “Hot Blooded” and, while they could not compete with Foreigner 2.0’s massive effects budget which allowed for about twenty fire bursts throughout that song, their more basic version was still fine.
After the requisite poses and allowances of pictures from an appreciative audience, Mr. Gramm and company exited the stage and The Beard had to admit to Little Johnny “I think I have finally had enough live Foreigner for the rest of my days.” Johnny said, “Hey, the old guy wrote a lot of pretty decent songs, but you know how one of them was called ‘That was Yesterday?’ Maybe think about that Beard.” “I hear you little dude. You oversee our next show.”
Meanwhile Lou Gramm band gets 80/100 because he once was The Man.
So, that ends show #64, and bands 277-278. Remember to follow us every Wednesday & Thursday on your award-winning site for all things metal, The Mighty Decibel.
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And be sure to tune in to our December Beard & Little Johnny top forty countdown of the best live acts in 2023.
Until next Time, this is The Beard & Little Johnny saying...