Adam Kargenian Photography
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CAMPFIRE IN THE CONCRETE JUNGLE
Switchfoot Warms The Gramercy Theatre With Their Film Debut & Enthralling Set

It’s been over a decade since San-Diego based Switchfoot headlined the radio with hits off of their fourth studio album, The Beautiful Letdown.

If you asked lead vocalist Jon Foreman about that, he’d be perfectly ok with it.

Switchfoot’s evolved immensely from their major label era, and quite honestly for the better. Since leaving Columbia, the band has shifted their sound from a straightforward alternative approach to an almost post-grunge take with an acoustic/electric medley to accompany.

Yet at the core of all Switchfoot’s albums lies their honest take on the happenings surrounding the band and their individual lives. To express these occurrences on a more open level, over the past year the band recorded their new film, Fading West, while simultaneously recording their eighth full length studio album of the same title during their international world tour. 

So here we are packed into the Gramercy Theatre on a Thursday night. For the band, it was a pretty big ordeal, as multiple people behind the scenes for the group were in attendance. Switchfoot’s manager was seated, along with Neal Avron, executive producer to the album side of Fading West (due in January) as well as the band’s last full length LP, Vice Verses.

The film itself was an intricate balance of surfing and travel that complimented each other quite delightfully. Directed by Matt Katsolis, the movie tracks the band from the Australia to New Zealand, South Africa, and Indonesia, before finishing with the band’s own “Bro-Am” charity surfing competition back in the states. Despite a roller-coaster of emotions throughout the film, the authenticity of the events that are portrayed keep it in even-keel. We see the rather humorous oddity of the band at Soundwave—an Australian metal festival—and then proceed to jump right back into the reality of life, as lead vocalist Jon Foreman is shipped home as his daughter enters emergency surgery. Accompanying right alongside this back-and-forth travelogue is the surfing side of the flick. At first glance, it doesn’t seem that a rock band creating a surfing movie can be taken very seriously. But Fading West makes its case, and strongly at that. Three time surfing world-champion Tom Curren joins the band during their stint in New Zealand, and immediately we see that brothers Jon and Tim Foreman, along with drummer Chad Butler, are not new to this themselves. As if that wasn’t enough, surfing legend Rob Machado—yes, you read that correctly—tags along while the group toured the icy waters of South Africa and the warm embrace of Bali. Guitarist Drew Shirley’s and keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas’ antics offshore illustrate further the fun loving side of this group. Katsolis’s direction and absolutely phenomenal cinematography greatly enhance the film as a whole, but add serious weight to the surfing half of Fading West.

Following the screening, a twenty minute intermission period occurred before the band came on for their set. Having seen the set list, I saw that Switchfoot was leading off with the electric heavy anthem of “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues),” and fully expected the band to come out swinging.

Boy, was I so wrong.

Strolling onto stage, Jon Foreman had a harmonica hitched to his head with an acoustic guitar in toe. Chad Butler brought out his brush set—obtained in the film while the band was in Bali—to accompany a single snare. Filling in for Jerome Fontamillas, who was tending to his recently born second child, the band’s dear friend Jyro caressed a traditional accordion. Clearly, channeling their inner rocker side was not on the immediate agenda.

Jon’s statement before beginning the set affirmed this. “We’re going to keep the campfire vibe tonight.”

 And the band proceeded to do just that. Moving through a beautiful acoustic rendition of “The Sound,” Switchfoot ensued to sprinkle some new material off of Fading West throughout the lineup. Foreman gathered crowd support to harmonize on “Who We Are,” dedicated later in the show “BA55” to the producer of the record Neal Avron. The acoustic vibe that embraced the intimate setting of the Gramercy flowed into the rest of the night. Dedicating the song to his daughter—the same one that went into surgery in the film, and the one the song is written for—Jon went into a moving rendition of “Daisy,” and in doing so created the highlight of the show. Only once was the campfire theme abandoned, and justifiably so, as the band rocked to their defiant chorale of “Dark Horses.” Jon and the rest of the band can fluctuate from bringing such intensity to songs such as this to the delicacy of others. The raw emotion that is created from such extremes creates an ultimate authenticity of the music and makes for Switchfoot being one of the best live performing bands.

Not forgetting their roots, the group performed “Dare You To Move” to the sheer joy of the crowd to close the initial part of the set. For their encore, the band abandoned mics all together and joined in a hair rising crowd rendition of “Hello Hurricane,” before rounding out the night with “Where I Belong.”

Ultimately, Switchfoot lit a communal fire in the heart of Midtown. It wasn’t hard to see why the Gramercy was sold out these past two nights.  

Setlist:

This is the Sound (John M. Perkins Blues)
Who We Are
The Shadow Proves the Sunshine
Worth the Fight
Daisy
Dark Horses
BA55
Dare You to Move

Encore:
Hello Hurricane 
Where I Belong