A night of mighty power-pop born in the 1970s, songs that launched millions of proms, weddings and general shenanigans, happened Friday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.
The line-up of classic rock-and-roll – and seasoned bravado – featured Foreigner as headliners, Cheap Trick in the middle slot, and Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience as openers.
Despite a similarity of vintage, each band creates something a little different: the night was a concertgoer's triathlon. Foreigner is primal love balladry. Cheap Trick is dark mystery wrapped in seemingly-innocuous and infectious pop riff. And Jason Bonham and band pay note-for-note homage to his father's band's masterful, operatic work.
Foreigner is out on their 40th anniversary tour: the number 40, printed on a huge scrim behind the band, loomed large. Singer Kelly Hansen bounded around the stage, in pink jacket and foppish white scarf. Sole founding member Mick Jones and the rest of the band delivered a set of the band's mega-hits.
"Double Vision" was show opener, every audience member standing and singing along, as they would for each tune. It may be testament to audience maturity that what was absent at this show was the usual sea of smartphones held aloft: a refreshing non-sight.
Mid-way through "Cold as Ice," Hansen hopped off the stage and worked his way through the crowd, stopping to climb atop a railing in the 200 section, security detail trailing behind.
A later stunt by the singer had him appearing on a giant two-story podium at the center of the amphitheater for "Jukebox Hero" (his pink jacket was gone, but the white scarf would stay in place for the rest of the show).
"A 40th anniversary is a big thing," Hansen said, "what can we do differently? We thought that we would let the audience decide the next song that we do. The one that gets the loudest response is the one." He gave the audience three choices: "Blue Morning, Blue Day" was the winner.
The appearance of 25 students wearing red t-shirts, from Williamsville East High School, was lovely. They accompanied for "I Want to Know What Love Is." Hansen made sure that they received the ovations that they deserved.
Cheap Trick played before their own giant scrim, printed with their signature black-and-white checks. Amps and a riser placed strategically onstage for occasional posing by inimitable Rick Nielsen, were in the same checked pattern. Nielsen, after all these decades, remains a champion goofball, strutting about and occasionally cajoling the audience.
Two songs in, and they covered (and brought a strange darkness to) the Beatles' "Day Tripper." Their other cover, Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man," was superb, featuring Tom Peterson on lead vocals. Band introductions followed and Nielsen said, "There is no substitution for Cheap Trick."
It would be a while before they delved into their own hits. At the sound of the first chords of "Dream Police," a recognizable hit, the audience roared. Nielsen celebrated the audience enthusiasm by tossing handfuls of guitar picks at the audience.
For set closer "Gonna Raise Hell," Nielsen's famed five-neck guitar made an appearance.
"Immigrant Song" was the first of the string of Led Zeppelin hits that extraordinary drummer Bonham and band played. The energy of their set never waned, nine curated songs that displayed not only Bonham's apparently-inherited drumming chops, but the talents of his fellows who soloed magnificently.
"It is terrifying for a drummer to follow that man," he said, "but I follow him with love and respect. And I do it from here," as he pointed to his chest, emblazoned with a Led Zeppelin icon.
Foreigner and Cheap Trick
Friday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center