I was curious to see what the night held on the first non-sold-out date of a tour for this veteran band whose major success didn’t really begin until 2003, after 6 years of hard work releasing three albums on one of America’s largest Christian record labels. But if the show wasn’t fully sold-out, it was only by a hair. And the show was great. Switchfoot know how to play and perform and, most importantly, entertain.
The fans were ecstatic.
Switchfoot began the show with singer, Jon Foreman, nowhere to be seen on stage as the band teased the crowd with an instrumental intro to their first song, "Needle and Haystack Life." A sudden commotion in the crowd and the appearance of dozens of cameras and iPhones drew my gaze to where the singer had appeared in the middle of the ballroom. The Switchfoot frontman appeared above the crowd on the edge of a reserved box seat like a blonde leather clad Adonis, mic held high, midriff displayed to the eye line of two very cute and pleased twenty-year old girls, lucky enough to be standing where they were. Foreman took one of their hands and sang close to her smiling face while camera phone videographers went wild.
Though perhaps the pagan Adonis metaphor that sprang to mind is not appropriate, considering the Christian faith of this band. The opening act, Paper Tongues didn’t seem particularly Christian until at the end of the opening set when the entire band raised their hands in worship. Ever since Evanescence’s success at bridging their originally Christian fan base into massive mainstream popularity, I have been fascinated by bands that walk the religious and secular line.
Switchfoot apparently did not want to begin their career as a "Christian" band, but still their first three albums were released on Sparrow Records and marketed mainly to Christian stores and radio. While today, even since they’ve "gone mainstream" they resist having their music defined by their religion. Which is certainly fair.
Speaking with some fans, many were not Christian, and just liked the music. While others felt that Switchfoot still contained just as much of the Word of God as ever, only now their message is delivered more subtly, enabling the babd to reach more listeners. Staci Smith, 20, from Abbotsford, who is a student at Summit Pacific Bible College said: "My friend who is a non-Christian homosexual listened to [Switchfoot’s] music and was really influenced by the Message."
Given that Foreman never mentions Jesus explicitly, and the fact that his inspiration comes from the likes of Saint Augustine, Kierkegaard, and the band’s biggest hit ever, "Meant to Be," is inspired by Eliot’s "The Hollow Men" leads me to believe that personal faith aside, Switchfoot are no more inspired by Christianity than most music: especially metal and hard rock, both which draw at least half their imagery and ideas from St. John’s Book of Revelation, and other Christian apocalyptic literature.
Foreman stated early on that the band would play all twelve tracks from their new record, Hello Hurricane, followed by selections from their previous six albums. Switchfoot is a surfing term that clearly has a musical and spiritual significance to the band. They gained major success with four songs in Mandy Moore’s 2002 film, A Walk to Remember; their following record, The Beautiful Letdown was their major label debut, and became certified U.S. double platinum (though achieved only gold status in Canada). The new album is considered to be something of a successful return by the San Diego band.
Singer Jon Foreman took a moment before a song to dedicate it to Jimmy Page. He then added it was dedicated also to his own mother who paid for piano lessons when he was young; but that it was because of Page that he later quit the piano for the guitar. Then Foreman proceeded to play and sing a lovely song called "Always" from their new album on the piano.
You can hear the versatility in Switchfoot’s songs. Especially as you watch them go from an industrial driven dirge to a mandolin and accordion led folk ballad. While some bands get lost trying to do a bit of this and a bit of that, Switchfoot was even able to amuse us by a brief dalliance with one of Beyonce’s hit songs. And any musician who mentions Saint Augustine of Hippo and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in song titles wins my academic heart’s approval. And it’s fascinating to see a band not afraid to be so versatile as to unite surfing and sunshine with two of histories most conflicted writers about struggle, sin and the human condition.
Switchfoot are a lot of fun to watch. So, while the Canadian tour is not yet sold out, except for Edmonton, I expect most nights will find the same success I saw last night at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver.
Review By Elegwen O’Maoileóin, M.Div.
Photos By Phoenix Black