Switchfoot has been one of my favorite bands since I can remember. I have fond memories of listening to The Beautiful Letdown as a young kid, and Oh! Gravity. was the soundtrack of my eighth grade year. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the beauty of “Meant to Live” and “Stars” showing me a positive, meaningful side of music when I was younger, I don’t know if I’d be writing about music today.
It may not be 2003 anymore, but Switchfoot’s still got it. Vice Verses was gold from start to finish, and the band’s most recent pursuit, a documentary complemented by a full-length album as its soundtrack, finds the San Diego quintet as ambitious as ever. The band has been premiering the film around the country on their Fading West Tour, and lucky for me, I had the privilege of seeing both the movie and a live set from the band at their stop in Kansas City on September 21.
As I entered The Midland Theater, Kansas City’s most beautiful – and scenic – music venue, I saw myself staring at a giant white screen that covered the stage from top to bottom. As the seating filled up and the lights dimmed, I was in for a mesmerizing experience that summed up Switchfoot’s career in three elements: rock music, surfing, and faith, the Californians’ biggest passions. These guys see the Earth in a way that most people would not even think to perceive on a daily basis; they’re filled with hope and spirit, and – if anything – they’ve found a way to connect to their surroundings with the same optimism they possess.
The documentary is basically a straight-shot depiction of the life of a rock band on the road. For Switchfoot, their lives may be full of love and success, but they don’t let any sort of grandeur keep them off the ground. And most of the time, too, the band is on the ground. When they’re not playing shows, some of which even tend to be metal festivals, the rockers are outdoors — hiking, surfing, and sightseeing.
Life is overwhelmed with communication and relationships, and Fading West strips this necessity down to its basic roots. Switchfoot meets hundreds of people while on the road, whether they’re Australian fans, famous surfers, or other bands (they even got an interview with Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus for the movie). The band spreads hope and love to everyone they meet. I was also impressed by the voice-over dialogue in the film. While it’s wonderful to see Jon Foreman reaching out to people and being his typical down-to-earth self, it’s even more wonderful to have his thoughts really resonate. As he reflected upon his struggles as he’s thousands of miles away from his family and talked about his choice of hope over any other alternative, I got goosebumps. This man discovers the similarities between people of all backgrounds and demonstrates the need to relate to each other to support each other. The documentary shows that it’s not as hard as one may think.
Albums like The Beautiful Letdown are extremely vivid, and the Fading West soundtrack fits right in with this category, being a fantastic backdrop to the salty waves and colorful landscapes. The full-length album hasn’t been released to the public yet, but it’s sure to be Switchfoot’s most atmospheric album, and possibly their jammiest, most cohesive release to date. The beauty of already-released tracks “Ba55” and “Who We Are” really bleeds through when watching the documentary; you can see where the band was inspired, and how these songs represent their experiences over the past few years as they made the documentary.
As a whole, Fading West is excellent. It shows a positive side of Switchfoot, but also a very vulnerable and humbled one. The film ends with the band playing their annual Bro-Am show in San Diego, and as the band rocked, surfed, and hung out with dozens of fans, I couldn’t help but feel that these guys summed up the career aspect (rock, surfing, faith) in one scene. It was truly a wonderful conclusion.
Film Rating: 8.5 / 10 stars
Following the premiere of the documentary, Switchfoot took the stage. They told fans to submit questions via Twitter before the performance, and between songs, the band answered some of them.
Every time I have seen Switchfoot, they’ve done something I’ve never seen before. Two years ago, Foreman climbed the metal and sang from the top of the stage. Three years ago, he jumped into the audience and sang along with dozens of fans. This time around, it was awesome to see them try to connect more with the crowd. With the ever-growing popularity of social networking, the Q&A was a fun addition and it kept everyone involved.
But the unique elements of Switchfoot’s live performance don’t end there. The band even transitioned their performance a bit. Little quirks like the meshing of “Chem 6A” and “Gone” and Foreman singing into his guitar at the end of “Meant to Live” are gone, and in their place are a bunch of new experimental segments. One of which was an acoustic version of “Hello Hurricane” with one guitar and one mic. The entire band huddled together and hummed along to the song’s chilling beat. Another fun track was “Meant to Live”, which was played acoustically — and the band claimed it was their first time ever attempting it as such.
However, while the set was toned down a bit, the guys still found time to rock out. “Dark Horses” and the recently released “Who We Are” were straight-up powerhouse rock anthems. Foreman’s singing voice was spot on throughout the band’s performance. The only thing age has done to his voice is make it a little rougher around the edges, and that night, it felt more impassioned than ever. But it’s the slower songs where the frontman’s voice really flourishes. He jumped down into the seating for “Restless” and “Where I Belong” to sing along with the crowd. He hopped from section to section, directly connecting with fans as he sang. During the chorus of “Restless”, I began to tear up, and as Jon Foreman’s eyes met mine, I could tell he felt drawn to me. He climbed his way into my row and shook hands with everyone. This was an incredibly uplifting moment and arguably the high point of the evening, culminating everything this band is about.
Now, I love both the heavy and soft side of Switchfoot, but it’s in the slower moments when the group really makes an impact. Their ability to strip their music down to its rawest form and connect emotionally with their fans is a beautiful thing; big and tall, black and white, Christian and non-Christian, this band clearly understands that we’re all human, and they use their power to uplift and strengthen. For that, I love them to death.
Sadly, Switchfoot’s set was far too short. It might’ve been due to the 90-minute runtime of the movie, as the band played a measly 11 songs. I didn’t get to hear two of my favorites – “Stars” and “This Is Your Life” – and Oh! Gravity. didn’t get any attention. Though it’s hard to satisfy everyone with an hour-long performance that attempts to capture the best of eight albums and an EP, I left a bit thirsty for more. Still, Switchfoot put on a lights-out show, and while this wasn’t the strongest I have seen from them, they’re an experience that will strengthen you. In fact, they may just leave you speechless.
Performance Rating: 7.5 / 10 stars