Barnstorming the Beach

IMG_3722Joe Walsh with JD & the Straight Shot at Casino Ballroom, Hampton Beach, NH – Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Last Tuesday’s Joe Walsh: One Hell of a Night stop at Casino Ballroom was a history lesson in the gonzo singer/guitarist’s career. It kicked off with his first hit, the James Gang’s “Walk Away” followed by a newer song, the modernity-phobic “Analog Man.”

Apart from a left field cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and a couple of nuggets from Walsh’s 1972 Barnstorm album, he stuck to well-known solo material and Eagles selections, with one delightful exception – an extended, incendiary take of James Gang Rides Again‘s “The Bomber.”

It was a perfect mid-set palate cleanser. The mini jazz-rock opera featured politically incorrect lyrics (give him a break, he wrote in in 1971) wrapped in soaring interpretations of Ravel’s “Bolero” and Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

Opening the show was JD & the Straight Shot, a bluegrass band with solid chops that held the milling about crowd well enough to earn raucous applause. The seven-member band’s 45-minute set leaned on the recently released CD, Ballyhoo. High points included tight harmonies on set opener “Empty” and “Glide” – the latter a tender song about front man James Dolan’s young son.

Most riveting was “Under That Hood,” a song from Ballyhoo that Dolan wrote in 2014 after George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin and was acquitted under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Dolan’s feelings are clear:

Nothing in his pocket but candy and a pop/What made him different and why’d he get stopped?/The color of his skin or the hoodie on his head/Ain’t no reason for the boy to be dead.

They played an unreleased new song about hidden love with a very bluegrass title, “I Know You Know I Know.” Its charming lyric had the makings of a fine duet with singer Erin Carley, who shined on backing vocals throughout. Regrettably, Dolan didn’t share the lead. Maybe next time – the band hits Gilford, NH’s Bank of NH Pavilion at Meadowbrook on September 16 to open for Don Henley.

Mary Jo Stilip provided robust fiddle; guitarist Marc Copely stayed in the pocket while acting as music director, exchanging tasty licks with JJ Appleton; Byron House and drummer Shawn Pelton offered a solid rhythm section.

A mixture of raconteur and carnival barker, Dolan held the spotlight admirably. He’s led various versions of his band for over a decade, and Ballyhoo is the strongest record yet.

Any review of JD & the Straight Shot usually includes mention of Dolan’s day job – he runs Cablevision and owns Madison Square Garden, among other things.

JD’s status as an actual billionaire may provide a straight shot to dates with the Eagles and Joe Walsh, but when the lights go down, net worth counts for nothing if the music isn’t there – it is. One benefit of having big bucks for this kind of endeavor is being able to hire the best musicians.

Beside, with JD & the Straight Shot, there’s one less Kickstarter campaign clogging your timeline.

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Classic Brand

Foreigner
Foreigner

Back in the days before grunge ate hair metal and wiped its mouth with a flannel sleeve, Kelly Hansen had a nice gig. As lead vocalist for melodic hard rockers Hurricane, he toured with the likes of Stryper and Gary Moore. Life was good, and his band even scored a few hits. Then Pearl Jam, Nirvana et.al. shoved his genre into irrelevancy.

So Hansen got into producing and artist development. “No one wanted to hear a voice like me, so I started doing other things in the business; I knew I had to wait it out,” he said in a recent phone interview. That lasted a dozen years before Hansen realized, “I’m not doing what I’m best at, which is singing. I decided to be more proactive about joining a band.”

Around this time, Foreigner co-founder Mick Jones was organizing a charity show in Santa Barbara, California. The guitarist was putting out feelers for a singer to replace Lou Gramm, who played his final show with the band in 2003. “I made some calls and I talked to management,” Hansen said. “After a back-and-forth process of a couple months … I jammed with them for like an hour and a half. They called me an hour later and said, ‘we’re booking shows for next weekend; could you start rehearsing tomorrow?’”

Just like that, Hansen went from toiling in the trenches to performing some of classic rock’s sturdiest songs, like “Hot Blooded,” “Urgent” and the proto-power ballad “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” For a guy that only wanted to sing, it was a dream come true.

As Foreigner’s new lead vocalist, Hansen plays it faithful, but purposely isn’t a doppelgänger. “I brought my own shoes; I don’t try to be anybody else,” he said. “I like the songs the way I learned to love them, and I think that’s the way most people like to hear them. So I’m injecting myself in there, but this is Foreigner doing Foreigner … they don’t need me to change them.”

Asked the inevitable question – what’s his favorite song? – Hansen demurs. “As a guy who sings for a living, I have this great selection of songs to sing every night,” he said. “You know how some times you’re in the mood for an apple and others an orange? Some nights the band’s really feeling one song and the next it’s another. They’re all great, so I never lose.”

Hansen believes his background as a Big 80s rocker is an asset – he isn’t a twentysomething recruit from some karaoke bar. “I think that’s part of what all of these members bring to the table,” he said. “We’ve all been around the block, and have an understanding of what it takes to make it happen.”

Another benefit of Hansen’s years in service: his singing has seasoned. “10 or 15 years earlier my voice probably wouldn’t have been right for this,” he said. “I think as I got older it kind of thickened up a little bit, and I think my vibe fits the band a little more now than it would’ve a long time ago.”

With Jones the sole remaining original member of Foreigner, there’s a notion that the 2016 vintage is a brand, not a band. Hansen’s having none of it, noting that such trash talk began long before he stepped up to the microphone to sing “Double Vision.” When their self-titled debut came out in 1977 – coincidentally, the year punk rock broke in America – cynics lobbed spitballs; Foreigner’s gold records kept piling up.

“People said that Foreigner was created in a board room somewhere by record company executives and it’s so not true,” Hansen said. “I’ve always been a fan of commercial pop and rock music. Back in the 70s, you couldn’t say that without people looking at you sideways, but that’s what I’ve always been. Foreigner was one of the best bands at doing that.”

Haters gonna hate, Hansen allows. “These are intense songs and they bring out very intense reactions in people,” he said. “But that kind of bow and quiver, it’s a great thing to have.”

The perks are also cool, too – and getting better as Foreigner’s 40th anniversary approaches in 2017. “We’re traveling around … Israel, Belgium, Switzerland, England, that’s always fun,” Hansen said. “We’ve already done the Lincoln Center, and we’re going to play at Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. That’s a lot of high-end places for a band like ours to be stomping into.”

Foreigner
When: Wednesday, July 27, 8 p.m. (doors at 6) 18+
Where: Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach
Tickets: $36-$76 at casinoballroom.com

This story originally appeared in the 21 July 2016 Seacoast Scene