Switchfoot uses art to unify audience

Photo by James Li.
Photo by James Li.

I suppose it is not often that one must review a film and a concert at the same time, but that is what I must do after attending the Switchfoot concert last night in the Covenant Fine Arts Center (CFAC).

The concert began with the band’s new documentary (produced by drummer and founding member Chad Butler) “Fading West,” which follows Switchfoot on their 2011 tour to promote their most recent album “Vice Verses.”

The movie gives a “behind the scenes” window into the lives of Switchfoot as they perform, write music, meet new people and surf all over the world.

As soon as the movie began to roll, there was a sort of sweetness and sense of deep beauty that washed over me. The cinematography is incredible, capturing these vibrant, exotic and faraway places with such purity that you cannot help but feel you are there.

As a movie that is largely about Switchfoot’s love of surfing, water is constantly on the screen, not only as landscape but as an active character in the film. Multiple times the water was referred to as the place the band members (especially Jon and Tim Foreman and Butler) go to unwind, to “reset” and to relieve stress.

Somehow this feeling is portrayed to the audience, and I too felt the refreshment of the cool blue waves crashing across the screen.

The movie is also incredibly relational. Sitting above most of the audience I could hear the gasps, the laughter and the “aww”s at the band members’ children. It was simply delightful. We were all partaking of the joy and the sorrow, the laughter and the tears together.

This film is raw and honest; the camera does not turn off when the band is wrestling with a difficult show or a personal struggle. We see the tears and the anguish of a father far from home when his family is suffering — we feel it.

These band members are more than rock stars now — they are people struggling to find answers to the same questions we ask and fathers torn between two deep, deep loves. I will certainly be seeing this movie again when possible.

Following intermission, the band finally came out: brothers Tim and Jon Foreman on bass and lead vocals/rhythm guitar respectively, Chad Butler on drums, Drew Shirley on lead guitar and Jyro Xhan on keyboard and accordion (Xhan was filling in for Jerome Fontamillas, who Jon explained was at home with his wife in anticipation of their new baby).

Most of the songs were past hits and fan favorites, which were easily distinguished by the eruptions of cheers and clapping only chords into a new song. The energy in the room never left, even when the songs slowed down.

They also played some of their new songs. I think that the beauty of these songs could partially be attributed to having watched the documentary less than an hour prior to their introductions. These new songs were no longer so unfamiliar because we had just heard the story and the context of the song.

One of these moments was when the band played (for the first time ever) “Daisy,” which is named for Jon’s daughter who became very sick and needed to be hospitalized for surgery while the band was on the “Vice Verses” tour. Everyone in the room understood the pain behind that song as it had been included in the documentary. It was truly a beautiful song, a father begging his daughter to pull through and to be okay.

The song is raw and strays from the “rock and roll” Switchfoot is known for, but ends in a brilliant burst of music that lets us know that Daisy was okay after all and that she was able to survive the sickness that attacked her body.

I don’t think the song would have been quite as powerful if we had not already watched Daisy’s story on screen and seen the pain and emotion, as well as the intense relief of a good medical prognosis. We walked that journey with them, which is a testament to the power of the film and the performance.

I think the weakest part of the show was when the band members responded to two questions fans had tweeted at them using “#askswitchfoot.” Calvin has a tradition of doing public question and answer sessions with artists that come to perform here.

This occurred at 2 p.m. the afternoon before the concert, so this part felt somewhat unnecessary and was so short that it lost its purpose.

However, it was interesting to watch the band interact with the audience in this way — to see the respect with which they treated fans and the interest they took in those whose questions they were answering.

During my interview with Butler a few weeks ago, he had said that they were going to perform a “stripped down” concert, inspired by fan requests for an acoustic tour.

As much as I enjoyed the concert, I wouldn’t have called most of it “stripped down.” Granted, I’ve never attended a Switchfoot concert before, but the energy in the room was very real.

From the moment the band came onstage, the crowd was incredibly supportive and involved, making me proud to call many of them my peers.

The most wonderful thing about this concert, I think, is that Switchfoot was able to create community through art last night. The film was honest in a way that welcomed the audience into life with the band members, and made it very clear that life is messy yet lovely all at once.

This is a community, a brotherhood that is so much of what Christian community should be. The members of Switchfoot are open with each other and are there for one another in every way, through the good and bad times.

They encourage and challenge one another to try new things and to become better people. They identify each other’s strengths and don’t hesitate to brag about or appreciate their brothers.

The strengths of these relationships are so clear on stage as they communicate and work with one another to create incredible art. But what is truly incredible to watch is their lack of separation from the audience.

They are somehow more interested in the audience than in themselves, which is a very difficult thing to do. So many artists, secular and Christian, cannot help but bask in the spotlight a concert provides. Switchfoot did not do this, instead perpetually interacting with the audience.

In the midst of the joy, they were clearly taking in their art with an incredible sense that this was not about them, but about us. All of us in that room singing together, longing for something more — something beyond ourselves, something beyond this world.

In a culture as individualized as the American culture today, this was a beautiful rejection of the norm, an acknowledgement that we are not meant to be alone and that, when we share in relationships, we are involved in something heavenly.

Our longing will not last forever, but for now we are on a journey — a journey that we can take together.

About the Author

Abby Paternoster

Abby Paternoster is the Chimes opinion and editorial editor for the 2013-14 school year. She is a sophomore from Ann Arbor, Michigan studying international development and social work. She loves to travel, experience new cultures and witness the work God is doing around the world.

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