Concert Review: Switchfoot Looks for America and Finds Hope in Portland

It’s certainly atypical to begin a concert review with a request but so be it. Switchfoot, you guys have outgrown the Crystal Ballroom. Please consider the Keller Auditorium or Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on the next tour through Portland, OR. You’ll have a professional stage, we’ll have chairs and unobstructed views, and you’ll still blow the lid off the place.

Now, on to the show.

Indeed, Switchfoot played to an immense sold-out crowd on Thursday at the ballroom with the bouncing floor finally bringing their Looking for America tour to the Pacific Northwest. They’ve been on the road for months with Reliant K in support of their fabulous 10th album Where the Light Shines Through.

It wasn’t a long show, at least just for Switchfoot, which managed 14 songs in less than 90 minutes. But it was a very lengthy evening when including Reliant K’s opening set which was as long as Switchfoot’s and the break in between. After a brief video introduction to promote Cure International, the San Diego surfers got on stage about 20 minutes after 9 p.m. opening their set with “Holy Water” the first tract off their latest album.

Audience favorite “Meant to Live” got a sub-in drummer when singer Jon Foreman invited a fan to play the final bars off the song before the guys resumed business with the opening cut from 2005’s Nothing is Sound, “Lonely Nation” which – fun fact – was written many years ago inside the Crystal. Switchfoot then proceeded with three straight off Where The Light Shines Through playing the rather original and playful “Bull in a China Shop,” the album’s title song and the fantastic “Won’t Let You Go” the intensely emotional  – lyrically and musically – highlight of the album.

Foreman’s vocals reached new levels on “Won’t Let You Go” but overall, even from the set opening, something proved different. When “Holy Water” started it sounded like the band piped in a recording to mark their entrance but undoubtedly it was Foreman and his mates. The five of them played tight all evening, something a long tour usually benefits from especially if everyone gets along. And no doubt these guys like one another but they truly love each other, their profession and the fans.

Lately, it seems almost impossible for those in the music industry or entertainment business as a whole to refrain from commenting on the current political atmosphere in this country. And Switchfoot was no different. Thankfully, Foreman who regularly addressed the crowd refrained from taking sides and instead introduced “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” (with a brief “Shadow Proves the Sunshine” teaser) by saying his hope is not in Washington, DC but rather in the Maker. Nice touch.

If there was any doubt about Switchfoot’s musical prowess their interaction with another fan produced a song request for “On Fire” the ninth tract on 2003’s The Beautiful Letdown. Obscure, for sure, and Foreman said it had been some years since the band played the song but they ripped it without so much as one perceptual mistake. One would think the requesting “fan” was a plant!

Switchfoot has come a long way from being that band with that song from the sad Mandy Moore movie. They did close the show with “Dare You to Move” but that tune no longer defines them. At least it shouldn’t. And to fans, it surely doesn’t. Take “The Sound” a hard-charging rock effort from Hello Hurricane that got everybody jumping or one of their latest, “Float,” which the band played to open the encore.  An absolutely fun song that departs from anything they’ve ever recorded.

Overall, Switchfoot featured seven songs off the new album, a solid selection leaving them with just seven to choose from any of their past albums. And there’s many. At this point in their career, the shorter setlist leaves off plenty of songs many no doubt wished to hear.

As such, Switchfoot’s stage show now equates to those A-list type of acts complete with background projection screens with accompanying video, great lighting, smoke, confetti shower and even bubbles. Of course their playing by itself rules the night. Yet, the small available platform at the Crystal Ballroom comes across cramped so learning to breathe a bit for the five-some  with some space between themselves and their instruments and all that a wide open stage offers could only bring net positive results and heighten the overall concert experience.

And our line of sight wouldn’t be the back of some guy’s head.

Switchfoot Portland Setlist at Crystal Ballroom:

1.Holy Water
2.Meant to Live
3.Lonely Nation
4.Bull in a China Shop
5.Where the Light Shines Through
6.I Won’t Let You Go
7.Love Alone is Worth the Fight
8.On Fire
9.If the House Burns Down Tonight
10.The Sound
11.Where I Belong
12.Float
13.Live It Well
14.Dare You to Move

Written By: AndrewT

Album Review: Switchfoot – Where the Light Shines Through

Switchfoot

Switchfoot hits new heights with their 10th studio album Where the Light Shines Through, out today, featuring delightful melodies, fun arrangements and an overall shift towards a new sound and musical direction.

Don’t worry superfans, the album isn’t a drastic departure from past releases it’s just different, and refreshing in a number of ways, most notably by showing the band’s ability to think outside the box and produce a 12 track album (15 tracks on the Deluxe Album) that almost feels like they’re starting anew.

Perhaps, most surprisingly, is the rocking  and upbeat nature of the album considering it was born from, as singer Jon Foreman said, “one of the darkest times I’ve ever been through.” Contrarily, it pops from the opening song to the closer and unlike their last effort, Fading West, which took the live treatment to really show the strength of the songs, Where the Light Shines Through is indeed an immediate ray of sunshine.

The album opens with “Holy Water” featuring an awesome chorus followed by one of the album’s best songs and simply nothing you’ve ever heard from the San Diego five-some in “Float.” Think Beck’s “Dreams” and finally Tim Foreman gets to shine on bass. One listen and you’ll be begging for more.

The title track infuses a bit of country and a touch of gospel into that familiar Switchfoot sound before the band hits you over the head with the emotional pull of “I Won’t Let You Go.” It’s as deep as any song Switchfoot has ever written (If you can let the pain of the past go/Of your soul/None of this is in your control/If you could only let your guard down/If you could learn to trust me somehow/I swear, that I won’t let you go) and shows a never before heard dynamic and range to Jon Foreman’s vocals. This is the song missing from Coldplay’s last two albums.

Don’t let the start of “If The House Burns Down Tonight” fool you, it’s pace turns quickly and is reminiscent of some of Billy Joel’s work from the 80s. “The Day That I Found God” is perhaps the band’s most vocal pronouncement, song wise, of their Christian faith. It’s a modern day psalm full of lamentation, some questions and finally reality.

“Shake This Feeling” continues with solid harmonies and could very well serve as one of several applicable singles on this album. “Bull in a China Shop” is another anomaly in the Switchfoot catalog, with a really clever guitar hook but the excessive repeat of the chorus bogs it down quite a bit and feels like the band found that fun hook but didn’t know exactly where to go from there.

“Live It Well” is the most Switchfoot of all the songs and could easily slide right in on any one of their previous albums.

It’s rarely if ever a good idea to combine a rapper and a rock band but “Looking for America” which features Lecrae (wow, he’s really making the rounds with Christian rock bands) isn’t all that bad (though it does comes across trying to hard to be Eminem) and considering the recent events in Dallas it’s got some seriously germane lyrics – America who are you?/Underneath the red blue and white?/America who are you?/I wonder who you are tonight/America who are you?/Is God still on your side?/I want to see a nation rise above the fear and fight that haunts these streets tonight

“Healer of Souls” brings the fun back with a catchy pop rhythm the Black Keys would appreciate and the regular album ends with “Hope Is The Anthem” the only other song that embraces the traditional Switchfoot sound.

The Deluxe Edition of the Where The Light Shines Through includes three additional songs which, quite often, when bands offer the “Deluxe” version the extra songs come off more as second hand, or those left off a previous album or just didn’t make the cut for the current album but worth sharing anyway. It’s never really made sense to me, if they’re good enough for a “Deluxe” album then they’re good enough for the regular album.

However, these songs indeed continue Switchfoot’s foray into new territory with the very different, very cool,  and somber sounding “Light And Heavy.” “Begin Forever “ and “When Was the Last Time” wrap it up and definitely feel more like songs from When the Light Shines Through but don’t necessarily give the same punch as the rest though “Begin Forever” definitely delivers grow-on-you attributes.

Some of music’s best songs, and albums for that matter, often result from the songwriter’s personal struggles with “fill-in-the-blank.” Where the Light Shines Through  is no different. Foreman said he turned his scars into songs and the album is the band’s most personal to date.

It’s also one of their best.

Grade: A-

Switchfoot – Where the Light Shines Through track list

  1. Holy Water
  2. Float
  3. Where The Light Shines Through
  4. I Won’t Let You Go
  5. If The House Burns Down Tonight
  6. The Day That I Found God
  7. Shake This Feeling
  8. Bull In A China Shop
  9. Live It Well
  10. Looking For America
  11. Healer Of Souls
  12. Hope Is The Anthem
  13. Light And Heavy*
  14. Begin Forever*
  15. When Was The Last Time*

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: The Pink Party with Switchfoot

Switchfoot took a side trip on their current tour schedule and delivered an inspired performance in front of about 500 people who attended the second annual Pink Party in Portland, OR on Friday at the Left Bank Annex in support of Breast Friends, a non-profit cancer support organization.

Jon Foreman in crowd

Jon Foreman surrounded by fans

The band’s last visit to Portland came in April on Easter Sunday to a sold-out Crystal Ballroom for the first leg of their Fading West tour. That show featured a stepped-up stage production and fans received perhaps the band’s most dominant concert of their career. Friday’s fund-raising show for breast cancer, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, scaled back the theatrics but the playing was characteristically Switchfoot.

Fans looking for a full-set were probably disappointed as the band only played eight songs which took just under an hour. The evening showcased a silent auction, a hula-hoop act and started with Portland’s The Hit Machine, a talented cover band that plays hits from Michael Jackson and Prince to Aerosmith and Journey.

Switchfoot opened their set with “Dare You to Move” probably the only song main event sponsor 105.1 The Buzz actually plays from the band on air. Singer Jon Foreman told the crowd his grandmother battled cancer before the band rolled into “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” the first tract off their Fading West album. Then most appropriately, Switchfoot played “I Won’t Back Down” a classic by Tom Petty who is also one of Foreman’s favorite singers.

Andrew Shirley

Switchfoot guitarist Drew Shirley

Foreman grabbed a guitar and harmonica for an emotional yet slightly bluesy take on “You’re Love Is a Song” which guitarist Andrew Shirley blistered out a solo for and then the band got everybody jumping with the rocking “Let It Out.” A small abbreviated show doesn’t keep Foreman from getting into the crown either, as he hopped off the stage, and quickly got smothered with anything pink the crowd could wrap around him. “When We Come Alive” was next and the Switchfoot songs ended with perhaps the evening’s theme “Meant to Love,” done really well acoustically. Foreman invited The Hit Machine, sponsors and breast cancer survivors on stage to sing the closer “Lean on Me.”

Considering Switchfoot flew in the night before after a concert in New York, they played sharp and Foreman’s vocals held up nicely. Tom Foreman cranked out some serious bass lines and drummer Chad Butler pounded away. Grabbing a headlining act like Switchfoot helps get the ball rolling for future fund-raisers though tickets, at just $25 (and no fees!), were still available Friday morning probably because only one radio station could advertise the event. At any rate, many hardcore fans of Switchfoot, like those who show up after Easter dinner, missed out seeing the band in a small venue at an affordable price.

Jon Foreman rocks a harmonica

Jon Foreman rocks a harmonica

The evening was not without some stagnation but organizers did well in keeping the crowd busy between sets. The Hit Machine started at 7 p.m. which if you’ve never had the chance to see is worth your time. They’ve opened for acts like REO Speedwagon at the Sleep Country Amphitheater in Ridgefield, WA and played small-town fairs like the Tualatin Crawfish Festival. The Hit Machine played for an hour and Switchfoot didn’t get on stage until 9 p.m.

Breast Friends was founded by two breast cancer survivors and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for female cancer patients. They help friends and family of those fighting cancer understand how to help and what the patient is enduring. Click here to donate.

The Switchfoot Setlist at Portland’s Pink Party:

1. Dare You to Move
2. Love Aline Is Worth the Fight
3. I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty cover)4. Your Love is a Song
5. Let It Out
6. We Come Alive
7. Meant to Live
8. Lean on Me (Bill Withers cover)

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Switchfoot Brings The Rock to Portland on Easter Sunday

Switchfoot brought an arena style rock concert to a boisterous sold-out show at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland on Sunday for their Fading West tour.

Lasers, immense stage lighting and rear stage video screens added an element to the performance the band had yet to incorporate into their live show. The efforts along with the usual solid playing fans have come to expect from the San Diego-based quintuplet proved to be Switchfoot’s best ever concert.

The evening started with the aggressive “Say It Like You Mean It” from the band’s latest album which was followed by the equally bombastic “Stars.” The second of seven songs off Fading West, “Who We Are” was next which backed off the pace a bit. For the only sour note of the evening, it was by now apparent that lead singer Jon Foreman’s vocals were a bit tired coming off three concerts in a row. His vocals sounded parched from the start and cracked at times through the first four songs.

Somehow, he managed to resurrect his voice by “All Or Nothing At All,’’ fifth-up on the night, and his vocals were relatively flawless the rest of the show.

Switchfoot played the obligatory “Dare You to Move” and “Meant to Live” the latter sounding rather fresh thanks to the band incorporating a soft opening featuring the band’s keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas on an accordion and Foreman on acoustic before the rest of the band surged in for a rock hard ending.

The band switched up the tempo and added additional elements to nearly every song but at the same time kept the integrity of the album version. The result showed the band’s versatility and ability to mix things up a bit as they played every song like a well-oiled machine and the added dynamics prevented any drag on the evening as the audience greeted each song rapturously.

Guitarist Drew Shirley fortified every song with solid rock rhythms and showed off some serious mettle with a solo on “Your Love Is A Song.” He provided some fierce chords on a number of rhythmic tangent’s the band peppered most of the songs with. Long standing drummer and band co-founder Chad Butler really shined on the set opener and closer “The Sound.”

“Dark Horses,” one of Switchfoot’s best songs, rocked with that opening guitar riff and featured an excellent bass from Tim Foreman and heavy drums from Butler.

Just over halfway through the evening for the Coldplay sounding “When We come Alive,” Foreman left the main stage and sang against a wall to the crowd in the middle of the packed room. Foreman clearly loves his role as front man but the display also shows just how tight this band plays.

He rolled right into “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight” and walked back to the main stage through the crowd high-fiving anyone with an outstretched arm. Meanwhile the band played along seemingly without any visual cues from Foreman who seemed at times to improvise his way getting the audience to sing along with him.

Switchfoot closed out the set with the great pop song off Fading West “Let it Out,” audience favorite “Meant To Live” and finally a nod to Easter with “Where I Belong,” from of 2011’s Vice Verses.

Though foreman said the Crystal Ballroom is one of his favorite places to play its pretty evident the band, along with the current tour’s stage show, is not only ready but seems willing to step up to the next level of performance. This requires an upgrade in venue.

A head-lining arena band Switchfoot is probably not, but a larger venue like the Schnitzer or Keller Auditorium in Portland is begging their arrival. Many times a stage or venue swallows a band but on Sunday, Switchfoot engulfed and proved too big for the stuffy Crystal.

Additionally, Switchfoot needs to up the ante on their nightly setlist. A band with a strong catalog of songs from nine albums should play more than 90 minutes and 15 songs. Switchfoot arrived a long time ago and it’s time they acted like a band that belongs. In fact, the only thing that could have improved on Sunday’s performance was five or six more songs. No “Mess of Me,” “Afterlife,” “Oh! Gravity” “Awakening” or anything from their first two albums. Switchfoot is closing in on 20 years and they have the chops to put on an extensive show.

The encore included the ominous “BA55” with another great bass line and fantastic drum cadence that Butler plays methodically. Finally, the band closed with “The Sound” and of course finished with another jam that left the audience wanting more.

Switchfoot Portland (Crystal Ballroom) Fading West Tour Setlist:

  1. Say It Like You Mean It
  2. Stars
  3. Who We Are
  4. This Is Your Life
  5. All Or Nothing At All
  6. Your Love Is A Song
  7. Dare You To Move
  8. Dark Horses
  9. When We Come Alive
  10. Love Alone Is Worth The Fight
  11. Let It Out
  12. Meant To Live
  13. Where I Belong
  14. BA55
  15. The Sound

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Switchfoot Brings Hope to Those Who Listen

Switchfoot never really does anything by the book.

In 2007, the San Diego-based rockers cut ties with their major label, built their own studio and began recording on their own. The members claim to be Christian but Switchfoot is not a “Christian” band. Their songs offer substance and complexity your local pop radio would never air.

It should be no surprise then on their current Fading West tour that the band’s opening act is their own documentary movie which they showcased on Saturday of all places at Bauman Auditorium at George Fox University in Newberg, OR – 25 miles from Portland. The documentary aptly titled “Fading West” documents the band’s world tour last year. Though it’s billed as a “surf documentary” and surfing represents a large portion of the film, it comes across more of a docudrama of life on the road.

At times quite emotional, the film gives the initial impression that this could be it for the band as members struggle with leaving their family behind and question their dedication as husbands and fathers. In one of the more poignant, albeit very short scenes, bassist Tim Foreman laments to brother and fellow band member Jon Foreman about being away from his wife when she miscarried. It’s a quick scene but its implication is heavy.

“Fading West” grabs the heart-strings even further as Jon Foreman receives a phone call that his daughter needs surgery. The band is in Australia with dates scheduled in New Zealand and he wrestles with leaving the tour. Ultimately, he leaves the band and flies back to the United States while the rest trudge on cancelling dates, surfing and talking about what the band means to them and what they hope it means for fans.

The film begins with Switchfoot playing the Soundwave Festival in Australia – more of a thrash-metal fest featuring bands like Slipknot, System of a Down and Lamb of God, among many other acts. Tim Foreman rhetorically implies that the band doesn’t know where they fit in – at Soundwave or in the music industry in general it would seem. He may or may not be seriously asking the question or just simply stating it as a matter of fact but the film never answers it.

Ultimately, “Fading West” is an interesting insight into life on the road for a rock band and fans should enjoy some of the behind the scenes looks, and if it’s not already evident that the men who make up Switchfoot are stand-up guys, then “Fading West” makes no mistake. All five members are family-men, who care about the poor, especially children, and they filter their life struggles and issues through their music which surely resonates with anyone who listens to them. Consider this almost poetic quote from Jon: “Faith and doubt are equally logical choices in the face of tragedy” and you’ve got the foundation to much of their music’s message.

The film is about 85 minutes and features songs off the same-named album set to drop January 14.  An EP of the album was released earlier this year featuring three songs. After a 30-minute intermission, Switchfoot took the stage and ripped off 11 songs opening with “The Sound” off 2009’s Hello Hurricane followed by what’s sure to be the first single off Fading West – “Who We Are” – a very “Switchfooty” song that needs some fine-tuning before next year’s likely full tour.

Conversely, “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” fourth on the night, sounded better live than the EP version. Incorporating the audience to “sing” the intro rather than the canned-sounding keyboard effects gave the song some authenticity and really just sounded better.

The fantastic “Stars” was third and the band returned to Hello Hurricane to play the underrated “Your Love is a Song” featuring a blistering solo by guitarist Drew Shirley who should really do more of that especially if he can play like he did on Saturday. For an abbreviate set the band dug deep into their catalog bringing out “Only Hope” from 1999’s “New Way to Be Human” and encoring with a campfire version of “Hello Hurricane” – absolutely stellar – and “Where I Belong” the last track off Vice Verses. “Dark Horses,” an ode to homeless kids in San Diego, is one of Switchfoot’s best songs and should be a staple on future tours.

By the sound of it, Fading West the album sounds edgier than previous efforts, goes even deeper on questions of faith and the meaning of life and perhaps a bit darker as the five members use their talents to wrestle with their own demons and perhaps help others wrestle with theirs. The third song off the Fading West EP “BA55” is bass heavy with solid guitar chords and that, along with the samples from the documentary, shows the band embarking on a new direction.

Once the credits rolled on “Fading West” the movie, Switchfoot no longer felt like a band thinking about retirement rather a band with something to say and as long as they have something to say they’ll use the power of music to say it. During the concert, Jon Foreman recalled the band rehearsing for a major record label and one of the executives walking out before the end of the first song remarking that he did not hear any singles. Foreman said all the band wants is to reach people with songs of hope and help them get through the tough questions in life.

He also answered his brother’s question of where the band fits in.

Switchfoot Setlist (George Fox University):

  1. Sound
  2. Who We Are
  3. Stars
  4. Love Along is Worth the Fight
  5. Your Love is a Song
  6. Dark Horses
  7. BA55
  8. Only Hope
  9. Dare You To Move
  10. Hello Hurricane
  11. Where I Belong

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Switchfoot Grows Up

Switchfoot is no longer your tweenager’s band.

The San Diego based five-some played to a packed house at the claustrophobic and suffocating Crystal Ballroom on Thursday in Portland. Previous gigs were dominated by doe-eyed 13-, 14- and 15-year olds but not anymore. Yes, the band still carries some weight with the younger crowd but Switchfoot now has a loyal following among those in their 20s, 30s and even 40s.

Many fans have indeed grown up with the band and based on Thursday’s performance Switchfoot has grown up too.

The band blazed through a 14-song set balanced with an array of lights and even a three-screen video back drop which is perhaps a decided move towards a bigger and better rock show. Switchfoot, comprised of Jon Foreman (vocals, guitar), brother Tim Foreman (bass), Jerome Fontamillas (keyboards), Chad Butler (drums) and Drew Shirley (guitar), is currently touring their 8th album Vice Verses (now a year old) which is definitely their hardest and edgiest effort to date.

The band started off loud with “The Sound” then one of their best “Stars,” “The War Inside” and finally “Mess of Me” before slowing the tempo a bit with “This is Your Life” and the reflective “Restless.”  The set featured seven songs from their latest album. “Dark Horses” will go down as one of Switchfoot’s best all-time songs and considering it’s a deep album cut it shows the strength of Vice Verses. The band played tight, sounded great and it must be said that Foreman has one of the most beautiful vocals in rock today.

The genius of Switchfoot is their ability and obvious desire to market their music to everyone. In a recent interview Jon Foreman said, “I want to sing to people that have faith the way I believe but I also want to sing to people that believe other things. Music is a conversation.” Originally marketed as a Christian band, Switchfoot definitely retains a strong Christian following, but the band is not a “Christian” rock outfit rather a rock band whose members are Christian. Switchfoot also doesn’t have that sound and tone so apparent with today’s faith-based records. It’s not until the listener dives below the surface of the lyrics that you find Switchfoot has a lot to say and it’s said well.

Remaining relevant in the current music scene is difficult enough and as Switchfoot gets older so will their fan base. Thus far they’ve accomplished what few bands can boast which is a broad range in age of their fans. But in today’s canned music world many of those rabid teen fans from five, even 10 years ago, have left what was cool back then – Switchfoot – and already moved on to whatever society has placed on the shelf and told them to buy.

The rest have remained true to the music, just as Switchfoot has.

Perhaps that explains why after so many solid albums Switchfoot has yet to take it to the next level. The Crystal is one of the worst venues in Portland (avoid the balcony at all costs!) yet they’ve played there for years and seem to have the muscle to break the ceiling and sell well at larger capacity theaters. For sure they are one of the few bands who genuinely seem to care about their fans and keeping concerts at smaller venues is a nice gesture but they have the talent and ability to step it up a notch.

Here’s hoping that Thursday’s show is reflective of the band’s desire to push themselves not only musically but also the stage show. Just as Switchfoot originally gained a following through their music back in the 90s, if the current live show is any indicator the crowds will hopefully keep coming for years to come.

Switchfoot Portland Setlist (Crystal Ballroom):

  1. The Sound
  2. Stars
  3. The War Inside
  4. Mess of Me
  5. This is Your Life
  6. Restless
  7. Rise Above It
  8. Meant to Live
  9. The Original
  10. Dare You to Move
  11. Hello Hurricane
  12. Dark Horses
  13. Souvenirs
  14. Where I Belong

Written By: AndrewT