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