Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Switchfoot concert review: Los Angeles

photo by Andy Barron
A version of my review originally appeared at 

If music feeds the soul, then Switchfoot is a prime source of nourishment.

Since the mid-‘90s, the San Diego band has crafted meaningful alternative rock like few others. Many songs are spiritual in nature, but the lyrics have a universal appeal.

That approach helped 2003 CD “The Beautiful Letdown” go double platinum and follow up effort “Nothing is Sound” reach gold sales certification.

On last year’s adventurous “Vice Verses,” Switchfoot emphasized more rhythmic elements and utilized programming on selected tracks. More recently, they have been putting together “Fading West,” a documentary due out next summer. It captures the musicians from the stage to the shore (surfing is a major part of the guys’ lives).

Footage was shot using three cameras Sunday night at a sold out City National Grove of Anaheim show. Before start time, a brief snippet of the work-in-progress was projected on venue screens and fans were prompted to show their enthusiasm for filming purposes.

While waiting for the doors to open, I saw a teenage girl sporting a homemade Switchfoot t-shirt with words from the tune “Needle and Haystack Life” and positive band attributes. Much of the crowd consisted of high school and college students; some parents had young children in tow.

The 80-minute, 14-song concert kicked off with a harrowing "The War Inside.” Shaggy-haired singer/guitarist Jon Foreman stalked the stage and delivered the vocals monotone style while lead guitarist Drew Shirley provided stinging riffs.

A bulk of the set was evenly divided between “Vice Verses” and Grammy-winning 2009 album “Hello Hurricane.” All five band members continually smiled at each other. Foreman seemed to having the best time and constantly ventured into the audience. Early on, he said, “We’re from just down the road, so this is like a homecoming party for us.”

Crunchy guitars and powerhouse drums by Chad Butler propelled the hit single “Stars” as fans dutifully pogoed along. Foreman and bassist brother Tim’s harmonies totally soared. The fun and funky stomping rocker “The Original” espoused individuality.

Jon Foreman explained the compelling “Restless” was inspired by rainy British weather and author C.S. Lewis. His passionate vocals, Shirley’s chiming guitar work and Jerome Fontamillas’ lush keyboardist/guitarist on the slow building “Restless” combined for a magnificent concert moment a la U2 (they also evoked Bono and company during the harmonica-laden, uplifting ballad “Your Love is a Song”). You couldn’t help but get caught up in all the emotion. Foreman finished it on his Taylor acoustic guitar.

Hard-charging “Mess of Me” boasted a Nirvana-styled wallop, bluesy breakdown section and saw the band really kick out the jams. Prior to “Dare You to Move,” the singer recounted when Switchfoot first signed to Columbia Records in the ‘90s and how it was hard to reconcile with the hit-driven music industry.

“For me, it’s always been an issue of heart. We believe in these songs, no matter if they’re hits or not,” he said. The comforting song resulted in plenty of fans’ hands stretched skyward, much like you’d see during the Harvest Crusade held annually next door at Angel Stadium.

The same held true for another big Switchfoot hit, ‘Meant to Live,” punctuated by Shirley’s careening guitar sounds. Moody, chanting rocker “Dark Horses,” - a top 5 alternative radio hit from “Verses” – capped the main set off in electrifying fashion.

Epic anthem “Where I Belong” saw Foreman wave a white flag (more U2 parallels) and sing inspirational lines like “this body’s not my own” and “when I reach the other side” to group gang chants. It was a stunning conclusion, complete with streams of confetti.

There were a few missed opportunities. “Selling the News” would’ve been a timely insertion into the set as we reach the Election Day and are continuously bombarded by political ads. Performing the giddy “Hello Hurricane” without a passing reference to the cyclone battering the Eastern seaboard seemed a bit incongruous. But those are minor quibbles.

All told, Switchfoot put on a powerful concert.

Paper Route did a great 45-minute opening set reminiscent of Postal Service and M83, mixed with a little bit of The Killers and OneRepublic. The Nashville electronic pop/rock trio (expanded to a five-piece in concert), just released second album “The Peace of Wild Things” and has a secret weapon in drummer Gavin McDonald. His propulsive beats were fast as a machine.

Both McDonald and singer J.T. Daly took turns playing a small cocktail kit perched on a high platform. The group fared best during “Two Hearts,” the lush synth-driven “Better Life” and soulful “You & I.”

Switchfoot, City National Grove of Anaheim, Oct. 28, 2012
Setlist: The War Inside/Stars/The Sound/Needle and Haystack Life/The Original/Restless/Dare You to Move/Mess of Me/Your Love is a Song/Back to the Beginning*/Meant to Live/Dark Horses
Encore: Hello Hurricane/Where I Belong
*Unconfirmed title for new song debuted live

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