Tuesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, three bands played songs that packed the FM airwaves during the ’70s and a good part of the ‘80s. Of the 15 men who performed in Foreigner, Cheap Trick, and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience on Tuesday night, only four were original band members. But who’s counting. The music sounded like it’s always sounded. Fans knew what they were in for — fun, nostalgic live music on a summer night, which they got and not an inch more.
The real surprise was Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, which started the concert (with no original members). Son of original drummer John Bonham, Jason opened “Misty Mountain Hop” with a larger-than-life drum beat — simple, huge, and unmistakably Zeppelin’s. Bonham managed to nail his dad’s legendary sound and style through all the tunes. He sat at the front edge of his seat and played with that legendary Bonham look – frenzied and attacking like the last song he may ever play.
The band matched the Zeppelin sound and mix. Songs were cut short — no sky-high Jimmy Page solos — but it was still fun to hear “Black Dog,” “Ramble On” and “Whole Lotta Love,” thought it was disappointing that they gutted the midsection of the latter tune.
Drumming has come a long way since the ‘70s; Bonham had the licks down pat, inserting some fancy moves inside his dad’s large spacious fills without losing the spirit of his drumming.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, Foreigner played nothing but hits. To their credit, they didn’t try to sell anything new, you knew every song — for better or worse — from “Head Games” to “Feels Like the First Time.”
The seven-piece band was spread out on the large, lit stage like a ‘70s arena-rock group. Singer Kelly Hansen worked the stage, waved his arms and offered the drama of a ‘70s styled front man. He sounded a lot like original vocalist Lou Gramm, particularly on songs like “Cold as Ice,” and “Urgent,” which didn’t sound any better live than on the radio.
The classic synthesizer sounds came out for “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” Hansen’s singing on this ballad exposed some differences from Gramm.
Mick Jones was the only original band member on stage. Jones was the chief writer and founder, and also produced. But Hansen played the lead role, screaming corny lines between every song — “Are we ready to rock and rolllll!!!!!”
Jones did speak before introducing and singing “Starrrider,” crediting Hansen for the band’s new wave of success. This was the one song that deviated from the pack, displaying a hint of prog-rock early in their career, but an avenue they never fully pursued.
Their pop songs, like “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” have a quality to them. But that doesn’t fully explain how these quintessentially ‘70s pop tunes continue to attract 8,000-plus excited fans to their shows.
Cheap Trick doesn’t have the number of hits Foreigner has — in Japan Cheap Trick had more commercial success than it did in the U.S. — but they had enough to occupy an hour-long set.
“I Want You to Want Me” was their first big one they broke out Tuesday night. While it wasn’t always easy to recognize that familiar voice of Robin Zander during the heavier stuff, he sounded like himself on these hits, particularly on “Surrender,” their best song of the night. Fun to hear a teenage fight song when a large part of the audience has grandchildren. “Mama’s alright, daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird.”
Along with Zander, originals Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson were on stage.
They piled all their hits into the end of the show: it might have helped the energy to use, say, “Dream Police,” somewhere upfront.
Cheap Trick is a hard-driving pop band, but had a punkish edge that once gave them some depth or mystery Tuesday night, the punk was still there, the edge is all gone, but they are definitely having a good time performing.