Review: Lou Gramm of Foreigner and John Payne’s Asia Classically Rock Chicagoland

(April 6, 2019). Have you ever gone to a concert to see one act and been pleasantly surprised by the act who opens?

That happened to this writer Friday night (April 5) in St. Charles, IL, at the famed Arcada Theatre, when Foreigner’s former front man and legendary vocalist Lou Gramm was preceded by Asia’s John Payne in a 17-song double set that itself was preceded by another opener – an outstanding rock cover band called Voyager, who were afforded their own eight-song set to begin the classic rock extravaganza.

Lou Gramm (formerly of Foreigner, left) and John Payne of Asia (photo courtesy Getty Images)

It was Asia’s appearance that I wasn’t expecting, primarily because I hadn’t been paying attention to the many announcements touting this collaboration, but also because I was laser-focused on seeing the legendary Lou Gramm live.

Even more ironic was that only hours earlier, I had been engaged in a cordial debate with a friend who, let’s just say, doesn’t share my appreciation for the supergroup Asia, the band whose progressive rock sound graced pop airwaves during the early ‘80s on hits like “Heat Of The Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.”

This jukebox logo is the promo for John Payne and Lou Gramm’s jointly billed tour.

As I now know and many others already did, John Payne has joined forces with Lou Gramm to tour hits from their respective bands, Asia and Foreigner, both of which were pop and album-rock staples four decades ago, and both with hits that still permeate classic rock playlists to this day.

John Payne, who originally joined Asia in 1992, was the true showman on this night, an affable sort whose humorous monologues guided the audience through eight Asia songs beginning with “Go” (a near-miss top-40 hit in 1985) and culminating with their biggie, “Heat Of The Moment” (a No. 4 pop, No. 1 album rock smash in 1982).

The biggest crowd reaction for Asia seemed to come from “Only Time Will Tell,” the second song in the set (and Asia’s second big hit single after forming in 1982).

The band – dubbed a “supergroup” based on its original membership (none of whom were present btw) being comprised fully of remnants from other previously established rock groups – has undergone numerous membership changes throughout its 37-year history, with original vocalist John Wetton passing away in 2017 (from cancer).

Asia ft. John Payne performs “Heat Of The Moment” at the Arcada Theatre on 4/5/19 in St. Charles, IL (Chicagoland area).

So it’s been left to Payne to carry the torch for a band whose debut album was the No. 1 LP of 1982 (according to Billboard) and who’ve released a total of 13 studio albums between 1982 and 2014 (perhaps more than any other so-called supergroup, or those whose tenures are usually much shorter-lived… see Traveling Wilburys, for example).

Asia rocked, both for themselves and for the night’s headliner Lou Gramm, the famous former Foreigner front man (try saying that four times fast!) who Asia backed and who Payne introduced as the “greatest rock vocalist of all time.”

That superlative made me – and I’m sure others in the audience – pause for a second to wonder if there was anyone in rock who might challenge that claim.  Then I quickly recalled those screaming-for-the-rafters tenor notes Gramm hit on such classics as “Double Vision,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You” and “I Want To Know What Love Is,” among others, before resigning myself to believing Payne’s accolade (Steve Perry eat your heart out).

In his prime, Gramm could out-do anyone in his genre (Perry, perhaps, being a rare exception), though those days are long gone – and understandably so.  Gramm, who will be 69 on May 2, has endured health issues over the years, including a brain tumor surgery that affected his weight, stamina and voice.

This was evident as Gramm – backed by Payne and his Asia band – trekked through Foreigner hits beginning with “Feels Like The First Time” and “Cold As Ice,” the famous one-two punch off the British-American outfit’s self-titled debut album.  Gramm revved up the rock engines for the next song – and my personal fave – “Double Vision,” the title track to their second album.  Known for its vamp at the end where Gramm ad-libs like few others in rock music have before or since, “Double” would seem to be the most daunting of the songs he selected for this set.  

Lou Gramm performs “Double Vision” on April 5, 2019, at the Arcada Theatre in Chicagoland area.

Yet he handled it and others with just enough of the vocal elements needed to remind you just who co-wrote (with Mick Jones) and sung those songs in the first place.  Shouts of “Louuuu” permeated the air as fans showed their appreciation for the man who just months earlier had announced his planned retirement from solo touring (amid rumors of a planned return to touring with the Mick Jones-led Foreigner).

The only non-Foreigner song Gramm performed on this night was a definite crowd pleaser, his biggest solo hit “Midnight Blue.”  From its opening chord – a single synth note that on the original tune was played through the song’s entirety – Gramm and the band had people on their feet as the feel-good rock and pop nugget blared through the speakers.

He then finished the set with four heavy-weight rockers that kept people on their feet for the remainder of the night.  From Foreigner’s landmark 1981 album 4 came “Urgent” (sans the famous sax solo; although Gramm did add an interesting cowbell to the mix) and “Jukebox Hero,” followed by another personal fave “Hot Blooded” from the Double Vision album, and the closer, “Dirty White Boy” from their third album, Head Games.

Personally, as the only black guy in the audience, I never really got the appeal of that last song, and would have much rather heard Gramm take on better tunes like “Blue Morning, Blue Day” or “Head Games.”

And yes, I know that “better” is a subjective term and certainly one that is in the eye of the beholder.  Still, it was a head scratcher that Foreigner’s biggest (and perhaps most vocally challenging hit) “Waiting For A Girl Like You” was not included here (or in any of Gramm’s recent shows based on a perusal of online set lists).

Then again, it’s that vocally challenging part that likely influenced the omission of “Waiting,” which, in the end, no one probably really missed after all.

Overall, it was truly a rocking experience by Gramm that this writer was glad to have seen before it all comes to an end, “Dirty White Boy” and all.

DJRob

DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

Set lists for bands performing at the Arcada Theatre on Friday, April 5, 2019:

Voyager (opening act):

  1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” – U2 cover
  2. “Jump” – Van Halen cover
  3. “Too Much Time On My Hands” – Styx cover
  4. “Here I Go Again” – Whitesnake cover
  5. “Roll With The Changes” – REO Speedwagon cover
  6. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” – Journey cover
  7. “Dream On” – Aerosmith cover
  8. “Should’ve Known Better” – Richard Marx cover

Asia featuring John Payne:

  1. “Go” – Asia 
  2. “Only Time Will Tell” – Asia
  3. “Who’ll Stop The Rain” – Asia
  4. “Wildest Dreams” – Asia
  5. “Time Again” – Asia
  6. “Here Comes The Feeling” – Asia
  7. “Sole Survivor” – Asia
  8. “Heat of the Moment” – Asia

Lou Gramm

  1. “Feels Like The First Time” – Foreigner
  2. “Cold As Ice” – Foreigner
  3. “Double Vision” – Foreigner
  4. “I Want To Know What Love Is” – Foreigner
  5. “Midnight Blue”
  6. “Urgent” – Foreigner
  7. “Jukebox Hero” – Foreigner
  8. “Hot Blooded” – Foreigner
  9. “Dirty White Boy” – Foreigner
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