Fresh off its 40th anniversary, and with a newfound interest in ’70s classic rock thanks to the smash Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Foreigner has released “Live At The Rainbow ’78,” a video documentation of the band at its swaggering best, delivering raw, bluesy rock and melodic hits that made them one of the most successful — and enjoyable — acts of the past 50 years.
Lou Gramm, Mick Jones and company blast out of the gate with “Long, Long Way From Home,” playing with an almost-punk rock energy that stands in sharp contract to the power ballads the band would belt out in the ’80s. The bluesy “I Need You” gives Jones a chance to showcase his guitar skills with an extended solo, with high backing vocals from bassist Ed Gagliardi.
While Foreigner’s greatest hits have kept it on the radio and on tour for decades, the deeper cuts deserve a second look, and one of “Live At The Rainbow’s” best songs is “Woman Oh Woman,” a Lennon-esque track with Gramm and Jones trading lead vocals, providing an effective contrast of sounds and emotions. The moody “The Damage Is Done” is another example, veering into funk rhythms in the second verse.
Foreigner’s stab at epic prog rock, “Starrider,” with Jones leading the way, is a deep-space exploration that isn’t the band’s finest moment, but the energy snaps back in “Double Vision.” The group extends a segment of the song beyond the familiar, with cool harmony vocals setting up some vocal vamping by Gramm.
The appropriately titled “Headknocker” is soulful and heavy, with the band — along with Gramm and Jones, Ian McDonald (guitars, keyboards, sax, flute, backing vocals), Al Greenwood (keyboards, synthesizer), Gagliardi (bass, backing vocals) and Dennis Elliott (drums, backing vocals) — is another chance for the band to stretch out, with Gramm jumping behind a second drum kit and Gagliardi egging on the London audience.
“Live At The Rainbow” is a snapshot of a band playing with the energy only new, hungry bands have, with some hits under its belt but not yet a perennial platinum seller. Gramm is powerful throughout, more relatable, than, say, the mystical Robert Plant, a perfect fit for Foreigner’s (mostly) earthbound material. It’s a band in peak form, well on their way to being jukebox — and radio and MTV — heroes.