Switchfoot hit the Pageant in St. Louis on December 6, 2011 for the latest stop on their “Vice Verses” tour. This is a band that feeds on the crowd and I’m not quite sure “St. Louie,” as frontman Jon Foreman refers to us locals, was energetic enough on this Tuesday night to create greatness (whereas their February 15, 2010 show did), but the band always comes through in an energetic, uplifting manner and they did it again here.
Somehow this group has navigated that difficult middle course of remaining unapologetically Christian without alienating non-believers. This could not be proven any truer than the St. Louis show—the concert was sponsored by the local alternative radio station (where “Dark Horses” is their Current No. 1 Song on the playlist), while the audience was shot-through with T-shirts advertising the local family-oriented Christian station (which doesn’t play their music).
It will be interesting how this tour is received, because musically the new album is a clear departure from most of their past efforts, with songs featuring almost hyper literate lyrics (“Selling the News,” “the War Inside”) against the backdrop of solid, guitar driven rock and roll that continues to mature. This is obvious when listening to the new CD, but—interestingly enough—not during the concert, where the band blends in the new songs seamlessly.
This is a band confident of their talent and full potential. They’re never slaves to the CD versions of their songs, often adding fresh interpretations to the set list without revinventing the song. When not overtly critiquing American culture, their songs are almost invariably laced with hope, faith, and challenges. It’s no surprise they’ve found a sizable audience, inclusion on the late night talk show circuit (Kimmel, Leno, Conan), covers sung during concerts by the likes of Taylor Swift and the Jonas brothers, and songs regularly embedded into movie soundtracks.
Live concerts always include surprises. They’ll lull you into a fresh dose of Switchfoot before busting out “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. Later, it is “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction with a guest soloist. (Sorry, I didn’t get his name.). These aren’t tributes, but fun interpretations that keep everyone alert. (During the Hello Hurricane tour, they covered Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.”)
They’re always highly interactive, with Foreman regularly wading into the crowd, and bassist Tim Foreman and lead guitarist Drew Shirley often leaning into the screaming, reaching fans. At this show, as 16-year-old named Tyler got a chance to play “Hello Hurricane” with the band during the Encore set because he held up a sign saying, “All I want for Christmas is to play Hello Hurricane with you.” He got the star treatment he wanted.
It’s an uplifting, energizing night that often includes songs ending with the band pointing to heaven via hands or guitars, as if they want to keep everyone’s eyes where they belong.
Can There Be More?
After a bevy of GMA Dove Awards, the band scored their first Grammy with “Hello Hurricane” in 2010. Every new album consistently adds to a catalog of songs that most bands south of U2 would envy. This is a band that’s still arcing into full maturity. While you might quibble that the venues might get larger, if they don’t, that won’t indicate failure. This is a band marking out a middle course almost no one has taken before, one that reaches believers and non, without sacrificing quality or energy. The real question is why more people don’t recognize that.
-Reviewed by Kent d Curry
NOTE: Susan Loyd shot some amazing pix from earlier in the tour.