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Even lacking original bandmates, Foreigner gives electrifying casino show

Casino concerts have a rightfully earned the reputation of being a bit on the tame side — the crowds are older, the shows shorter, and the venue not always conducive to rocking out.

The same couldn’t be said for the Events Center inside Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino on Saturday night as Foreigner took the stage before a capacity crowd and shook the walls for two solid hours of electrifying entertainment.

While the current lineup is far from the Lou Gramm-led supergroup of the ’70s and ’80s that sold 80 million albums worldwide, the patchwork crew led by frontman Kelly Hansen, who took over in 2005 following Gramm’s departure and a brief hiatus, has every bit the voice of Gramm in his heyday, and arguably a greater stage presence. With a supporting cast that includes former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson, the 2015 incarnation of Foreigner gives fans their money’s worth and then some.

As the lights went down and the bass began to thunder, Hansen and the band appeared, and launched into “Double Vision,” a top-10 hit from 1978. From there it was a walk down memory lane, covering work from a half-dozen multi-platinum albums ranging from “Head Games,” to “Cold as Ice” (which Hansen cleverly led into with some deftly delivered references to the Western New York weather).

When the crowd was slow to loosen up, Hansen left the stage and made his way several rows deep into the Event Center, literally bringing people to their feet and imploring them to “make some noise.”

While Hansen is a bona fide rock star with a platinum voice, the absence of the band’s founder (and only remaining original member) Englishman Mick Jones was disappointing. Jones, who is 70, has struggled with health issues in recent years, though no explanation was given for his absence.

Though there was not a single original member of the band onstage, this group somehow made you forget that fact (or at least not care), because the energy, talent and passion on stage washed over the crowd. The audience was left wanting not Gramm, or Jones, but more of what Hansen and his bandmates were serving up: good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll music.

Hansen and Co. were at their best when it came to rocking two of Foreigner’s biggest, baddest ballads, “Urgent” and “Hot Blooded” – both extended with powerful instrumentals that proved these guys can flat-out play music.

In a unique twist with a local flavor, the band held a contest in conjunction with a local radio station offering area high school chorus groups a chance to join the band onstage. Niagara Falls High School took the top prize and toward the end of the evening joined the band to back up their No. 1 hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” from 1984’s “Agent Provocateur.” For the students, their smiles said it all, and for the band, it was a classy move and one that earned them even more love from the already raucous crowd.

Though purists will dismiss any band that takes the stage lacking even a single original member, if you closed your eyes, took out your lighter and held it high, and began to slowly sway during Hansen’s rendition of “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” you just might have thought Gramm was back behind the mic. It just felt that right.

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