What do Audio Adrenaline, Everyday Sunday, Five Iron Frenzy, LaRue, Luna Halo, PFR, Sanctus Real, and Third Day all have in common? Members from those bands have all told us Switchfoot is one of their favorite bands. So the question from some of you might be "Why?!" Well, the answer can simply be... have you seen them live?
On a Sunday afternoon we drove down to Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love -- and people who would probably mug you for a quarter -- to catch Switchfoot's North American Spring 2003 Tour. We found the venue to be not much nicer than a hole in the wall (in fact the stage basically WAS a large hole in a wall), but it made for an intimate concert setting with the artists. The Pontiac Grill only let somewhere around a hundred people into the tiny bar and sent everyone else home -- especially unfortunate if you were standing in line for an extended period of time in the frigid weather (tickets were not sold prior to the opening of the doors the day of the show). Once ushered in, we took a spot against the wall and waited for the opening act Cool Hand Luke. To be honest, I'm not very familiar with either opening acts, so the songs were all new to me for the most part. The band walked onto the stage with a mild, shy presence and took their time setting up their instruments and prepping the set. They guys were so nonchalant about it that once they began playing their first song, it took nearly a minute to realize the concert had begun. From where I was watching the stage from, I could only see the bass and electric guitars but the drum set was tucked behind a stack of speakers. When the vocals kicked in, my initial thought was that the lead singer had begun singing from backstage. When I realized no one was joining the other members (and the bassist and guitarist were clearly not singing), it dawned on my thick-headed mind that only one other member -- one completely out of my field of vision -- could be singing. Sure enough, drummer Mark Nicks was balancing incredible drumming skills and quality vocal performance. The trio's artsy emo-flavored rock was the product of three fine musicians... with unfortunately little stage presence.
With that, Denison Marrs was up to the musical plate next as the seasoned indie rock band ready to leave an impression on the crowd. Unfortunately, most of the crowd merely stood and watched Marrs put on an energetic rock show, but there regretfully wasn't much about Denison's show that was to find engaging. Most of the songs seemed to run together and the only really captivating person to watch was lead vocalist Eric Collins. All in all, their set was good, just not necessarily up to par with the headlining act or quite what their fans would go for.
Following two talented acts, the crowd finally got what they waited out in the frigid air and packed themselves into a tiny rundown bar in Philly for: rock geniuses Switchfoot. The formerly clean-cut and more recently shaggy-haired trio-turned-quartet took their places on stage and got the started the night off on the right foot (no pun intended) with "You Already Take Me There." The more rock-driven classic SF tune was a familiar way to open the show for a crowd of mostly fans. In fact, it wasn't until this set that the fans really came alive. The hooky "Loser" was a worthy follow-up, also from the band's 2000 record, Learning to Breathe. Lead singer Jon Foreman was relaxed and interacted with the crowd and made the setting seem more like a living room jam than anything else. The once trio seemed complete with the newest permanent addition Jerome Fontimallis (of Mortal and Fold Zandura fame) in place on keys and guitar. And just for this tour, Drew from All Together Separate added a third guitar into the mix. This ensemble brought such power to songs like the next tune, and probably the band's most amazing number to date, the guitar-heavy "Meant To Live." "Company Car" lightened the mood back up, tongue firmly in cheek, before turning to the incredible "This Is Your Life." To the surprise of many, Jon proceeded to bend over his guitar several times and proceeded to apparently sing into the strings as they reverberated creating a truly unique sound through a truly intriguing method. Appropriately, "Learning To Breathe" followed suit along with their current hit single "More Than Fine" and the more delicate "Only Hope" from their New Way To Be Human record. Jon paused the set to aknowledge the presence of a fan who had been to sixteen of the band's shows and hadn't heard his favorite song played once. To amend the situation, Foreman proceeded to play his acoustic sing "Might Have Ben Hur" which was met with a surprisingly large amount of crowd vocal accompaniment. The band then closed out their collection of more subdued songs with the newer "Twenty-Four" before rocking out a more aggressive rendition of "Dare You To Move." The fun and rocking "Ammunition" was followed by Switchfoot's most memorable hit "Chem6A" and the anthemic "New Way To Be Human" before the foursome called it a night. To answer the call of a room unanimously screaming for "one more song" repeatedly, the band came back to perform the catchy "Poparazzi." Switchfoot exited immediately and got ready to tear down as the crowd insisted on one last song. And just as the band was making the move back to the stage, management for the Grill told the band they absolutely had to tear down for another band coming in. To this, Jon picked up his acoustic and agreed to perform one last serenade for the audience while everyone else began packing up. Jon then admitted to performing for the rejected fans outside in the streets of Philly who couldn't get in while Denison and Cool Hand performed. He took requests for the final acoustic song and agreed on "On Fire" and performed a satisfying and memorable closer for the evening. The guys put together a pretty well-rounded set although the meat of it was melodic and subdued, the pieces holding it together rocked the shoes and socks off the fans and rightfully so.
So although the location probably wasn't the best area of the city to be in and the Grill was basically a dumpy bar, the overall setting made for an excellent performance from the boys in Switchfoot and explains very well why they're a band's band and one of the most promising acts in Christian music today.-- John
01. Already Take Me There
03. Meant To Live
04. Company Car
05. This Is Your Life
06. Learning To Breathe
07. More Than Fine
08. Only Hope
09. Might Have Ben Hur
11. Dare You to Move
14. New Way to Be Human
16. On Fire
Cool Hand Luke
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