The high point of the Foreigner show at the Jackson County Fair Tuesday night was when some two dozen singers from South Medford High School took the stage with the veteran rockers. It was the encore, the anthemic "I Want To Know What Love Is."
As heavy clouds drifted over the Lithia Motors Amphitheater, the South High Choir, in jeans and T-shirts, sang and boogied to a ballad their parents remember from 1985: "I want to know what love is/I want you to show me ... ." The band had wrapped up a 90-minute set moments earlier with a bombastic "Jukebox Hero."
But for the youngsters, a little history. Long ago in a galaxy much like this one, in a time before cellphones, iPods and music downloads — or anything to download them from — there was a thing called Top 40 radio.
And in 1976 an English guitarist and singer named Mick Jones got some dudes together and released an album called "Foreigner," which blanketed the airwaves with a pop marching ballad entitled "Cold as Ice" that sounded familiar the first time you ever heard it.
The next album sold even more vinyl and blasted a song called "Hot Blooded" from all the car radios in the world. The band carried arena rock into the 1980s, members went and came (nearly 40 of them eventually), the band had six multi-platinum-selling albums, and the decades passed.
What did they sound like then? Just like they did kicking off the show with "Double Vision," as fans gathered in front of the stage to dance, shake their fists and shoot cellphone video.
"Head Games" had singer Kelly Hanson pointing at his head, shaking a tambourine and asking the crowd if they wanted to rock. The thumping "Cold As Ice" brought out the band's inner schlockmeisters, with the guys pitting one side against the other in sing-alongs, throwing guitar picks and drumsticks into the crowd and high-fiving clamoring fans. Hanson ran up and down the aisle.
The band followed "I Want to Know What Love Is" with "Hot Blooded," which the original members may have been in 1978, but now probably not so much.
The strange thing is, if you're of a certain age, you knew every one of these songs, whether you'd ever actually listened or not. "Waiting for a Girl Like You" had a manic energy, even if the Lithia's acoustics issues muddied it up. "Dirty White Boys" was probably the evening's hardest rock. "Urgent" featured a showy saxophone solo by multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel.
The show was competent and professional and raised a couple of questions. One is about what happens to arena rockers that keep rocking. Foreigner these days plays private parties, corporation events and fairs. It hit on the local choir idea five years ago when tickets for a show weren't moving, and the gambit sold tickets.
The second question is: How many original members of a band does it take for the band to keep the name without everybody snickering? The apparent answer is one. Lead guitarist and founder Mick Jones is still active in the group. It's as if when he played at Britt a few years back, Ringo Starr had called himself The Beatles. But wait, it gets weirder.
Jones was not onstage this night, meaning the number of original guys was zero. Oddly, all the numbers sounded just like the originals.
Anyway, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Grammy Foundation's musical education programs at a time when school districts are axing music programs. And the band is said to be chipping in $500 to South's music program.