Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades, you have probably heard of the legendary English-American rock band Foreigner. The talented group was originally founded in late ’70s, and since their inception, Foreigner have traveled around the world touring, creating wildly popular hits and stunning audiences with their showmanship everywhere. Now the highly celebrated group will be hitting the stage at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center this Saturday, May 4. Metro got the scoop on what to expect from the show from Foreigner’s talented multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel. Gimbel sat down with Metro to chat about his career, some of his fondest memories touring the world, and how he thinks music brings people together.
You’ve toured with a few notable bands throughout your career. How did you get your start with Foreigner?
I originally started in ’92, and I had to go back to Aerosmith in ’93. That’s when I called Scott [Gilman] and he subbed in. He filled in for me and at the end of ’94, he wanted to go and do his own thing, so he called me to take the job back again. We were handing the baton back and forth, but everybody got along so well I wish we could have all been in the band at the same time. But he’s a great friend, and that’s how it became more permanent. It was just very natural and very organic.
Foreigner has been around for decades. What do you think it is that still makes the music so wildly popular and timeless?
I think it’s the quality of the songs and the performance, I really do. The way these songs were written — Mick Jones is a very complex guy and he knows how to put that into music without the listener knowing it. I know Mick, just like all of us, loves Marvin Gaye and Motown and blues, so you’re going to get that on top of some very subtle sophistication. Then the lyrics are probably the magic. I think the messages in the lyrics are so accessible, most people can just say yes, I know what that feels like. Almost every one of the songs, you look at them and go, oh yeah, I know that one, or I remember that, or yeah, I can imagine that. It’s so heartfelt that it really resonates throughout the ages.
Speaking of the songs, is there a particular song that you would say is your favorite or maybe favorite to perform?
Just the one that we’re playing at the moment. Whatever song we’re in the middle of, that’s my favorite.
Obviously you’re a veteran when it comes to touring. What do you like the most about being on the road?
Probably being able to perform and connect with an audience. It’s performance art — I’m an artist but performance is my art. I kind of get to create every night. I just feel so blessed. A concert is when people pull together and that’s something that we all crave on a visceral sort of level. When you’re connected with a band and audience, you don’t feel alone anymore. That’s probably why it’s so uplifting.
When you do travel, would you say you feel different energies or vibes from the audience?
It’s really similar, it really is. I remember playing in Moscow and looking at the faces of the people, and you can almost sense that it had been a rough life condition. Obviously, even just from the cold — it’s really bitter cold climates there. But the joy that you see in the eyes and the smiles, I see that consistently and I think about music being the universal language. They say love is but I think music may be more so. Music honestly just transcends all language barriers. One time I was in Kuala Lumpur practicing my saxophone in an outdoor pavilion and someone on the other side of the wall — I’ll never know who it is because it was such a high wall — started jamming with me, playing rhythmic instruments. It was a bongo or some kind of drum, and I had a little jam session over the wall with a stranger in Kuala Lumpur. I’ll never forget that. That’s when I started to think it was a universal language. Certainly rhythm is, everyone feels that.
Any other notable stories stick out to you from all of your years of touring and performing?
Tons, there are just tons. I probably should write a book or at least a pamphlet. I could pick a couple of key moments that stand out in my memory, like Woodstock Two with Aerosmith. I think there were about 400,000 people there. So when they would cheer it sounded like a jet engine was taking off. I never forgot that sound, it was so loud. I thought that was a big number and then I was fortunate enough to work with Foreigner. It was New Year’s Eve. They said we were going to go on live TV right at midnight with the countdown and when they say “Happy New Year” we want to time it so “Urgent” is playing and you hit the high note right there at midnight on TV and there’s going to be 40 million people watching. So I went 400,000, I thought that was a good number, and now you’re throwing a couple of zeros onto that, really? Okay, alright, I can do this. Mick and Lou and the whole crew were laughing watching me sweat, saying, “Ha ha, he’s got his high note right at midnight. No pressure, take it easy. You look a little pale!” They always had a great time ribbing me. Those are some of my favorite moments, when they really rib you, you know? That’s when you feel like part of the family.
Just switching gears for a second, I saw that Foreigner is trying to help save music in schools. What can you tell me about that?
We have been having choirs from the high schools come up and sing with us. In return, we make a donation to their music program. We are doing what we can to save the music programs because they are just being taken away for budgetary cuts and restraints. The kids don’t deserve that. So we’re really just trying to send a message there and also help these choirs and have them live this experience onstage singing with us in front of a big crowd. That’s something you can really draw from later in life if you decide to continue performing.
What can Philly audiences expect from your show at the Xcite Center?
Don’t expect any new songs. We’re not going to unveil anything new. It’s going to be a great time. Kelly Hansen, our singer, runs around the crowd and gets everyone involved. He talks to the crowd like they are his friends. Hopefully, everyone can just forget about life for a little while. You can kick and stomp and yell and scream and sing. We’re going to play all of the Foreigner songs you would hope to hear at a Foreigner concert. I’m gonna grab my saxophone for “Urgent” and just lose my mind. Sometimes they have to wake me up afterward. Hopefully, everyone is going to sing “Jukebox Hero” at the top of their lungs and the show turns into a big sing-along, especially when the choir comes out. It’s a really good time.