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Show Review: Reaching Generations with Switchfoot

Switchfoot performing on the Tonight Show

Switchfoot’s debut album Legend of Chin came out in 1997, it was a fun, anthemic rock album that stretched the boundaries of Christian rock.  Fourteen years later, the band is still bringing it.  Seeing Switchfoot live at the National in Richmond, VA was a special thing.  It’s an interesting venue with all the trappings of a vintage theater, and it’s a room that you can tell the band genuinely enjoys playing.  I had the privilege of discussing that, among other things, with drummer Chad Butler before the show.

The set list featured a heavy dose of Vice Verses, the group’s latest album and the recent Hello Hurricane.  The Vice Verses tracks shone brighter with the voice of the band’s experience both together and in the studio. ““Vice Verses came together easier than the last one.  Hello Hurricane was a tough one for us, we spent years kind of searching for a sound and a group of songs that we really believed was the next statement for the band,” said Chad, “This record stands on the shoulders of Hello, Hurricane.  It’s only because we went through that process that we were able to find our voice.”

Seeing the Vice Verses songs live, it is apparent that they came from an entirely different place for the band.  They wrote them during their last tour, scrapping together pieces during sound checks.  It lends a certain energy to the album, and one that translates very effectively to the live show.  “We did all the demos for Vice Verses on tour last year while we were touring Hello Hurricane, so during soundcheck we worked on demos for these new songs,” reflected Chad, “the live band dynamic lends itself to the songs starting in an interactive place versus a sterile studio environment.  As great as the studio is it’s not a live show, or even a soundcheck.”

While the album is energetic, the live performance is where these songs are meant to be heard.  That isn’t anymore clear than in the contributions of Drew Shirley.  Drew, who is the most “recent” addition to Switchfoot, has really come into his own in this band.  His on point guitar solos were riveting, and it was clear that this is an album that he had a huge hand in crafting, and that craft has extended to the live show.  “It’s been a great team effort, each time we walk on stage it feels like a tight knit force, it feels like it wouldn’t be the same if there was someone else on stage.  It feels like we’ve really grown together so much,” said Chad, “Drew is really able to come in and not only cover what Jon is playing but also grew into a role of this incredible tonesmith and fantastic guitar player that has added so much.”

When the band kicked into “Meant to Live” I expected a huge roar from the entire crowd.  After all, “Meant to Live” is one of the band’s best songs and a defining moment for the band, to establishing them as a force to be reckoned with in the rock music world.  Instead, there was a roar, but not one like I would have thought.  It wasn’t until after the show that myself and Beliefnet contributor Ben Wright figured out why:

A large part of the audience would have only been oh, 8 or 9 years old when that song came out.

At first the realization was a little bemusing.  I won’t lie – I felt old – just like when the band covered Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” and we (along with the youth pastors in attendance) knew every single word.  But, as I mulled it over, I realized that this is what makes Switchfoot a special band.  Their sound has changed over the years – that is undeniable – but the message has always been positive.  Move forward, love one another, we are meant to be more than who we are; they are Christian messages but messages that are still hitting people from many walks of life – and of many ages.

Seeing a crowd of such a wide age range be moved by “Where I Belong,” the powerful closing track of Vice Verses, was a unique experience and one that you wouldn’t see replicated at many lesser concerts.  It’s simple really – Switchfoot has always been true to themselves, and they all happen to be great people with something decidedly interesting and positive to say.

That is the kind of thing that can span generations.

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