I was pretty ready to see Switchfoot at Calvin College on Saturday night by the time they came out for their show. I have been playing Jon Foreman's EPs, Fall and Winter, a lot the past month, I had put their last two albums, Oh! Gravity and Nothing is Sound, on rotation in my ipod and I had them in the car. I went to the conversation with Jon Foreman in the afternoon and it was really excellent to hear him talk about his new EPs and his songwriting. We had a fairly quick dinner and then back to campus to wait in line for quite a while. While in the car I played "Stars" for Lynnae and said how it was my favorite song on the album. I sure hoped they'd play it. We got in about 45 minutes before the show was scheduled to start and then had to wait until TWO opening acts did their sets. Emory and Athlete both had 45 minute sets which were, for me, about 45 minutes too long each. To make things a bit worse Emory were really really really loud. To the point where I went to get earplugs. So, after all of that it was almost 10:00 by the time Switchfoot hit the stage. I was already tired and I hoped it was worth it.
Then the lights went down and the band took the stage with Jon Foreman going over to the piano where he sang the chorus from "The Shadow Proves the Sunshine" and when he got to the end of the chorus the band came in with a wash of sound which morphed into the amazing opening riff of "Stars." It was clear almost immediately that this band was not going to be content with merely playing album versions of their songs – they were rethinking and reworking them. I was immediately hooked. They went right from "Stars" in to "Oh! Gravity." The sound was great and the band was on target. By the fourth song Jon Foreman announced that this was the best audience of the tour and it felt like it. The crowd was very much into the band and the band responded with a high energy performance that left nothing in the dressing room.
Foreman is a really good front-man, reminding me of Bono in spots, the way he speaks between and during songs, the way his music deals with larger themes and how he seems to want to raise the level of conversation but also encourage all his listeners to be better people. Jon went out into the crowd at one point standing on the armrests of the seats just behind me. (The picture is my daughter Meredith with Jon Foreman right behind her.) It was clear that the band was watching him for cues on when to change the music around and that Foreman was free to improvise over the band because they knew what they were doing and they were following him well. I saw them a number of years ago outdoors and they've improved greatly since then. The addition of the two newer band members has allowed Foreman to have much more latitude in concert – he doesn't have to worry about playing guitar so much – he has other people to do that.
The concert ended with their hit "Meant to Live" after which Jon came out to do a solo song from his newest EP, Spring. Then he started a solo version of "Dare to Move" which was great but before he was finished with the first chorus the rest of the band joined him and rocked the song out to close out the show. I have liked their music on CD but I really didn't expect them to be that good in concert. I am now a big fan.