Switchfoot Live in Shepherds Bush as reviewed in The Phantom TollboothThe Vice Verses tour has so much great music to choose from as Switchfoot work their socks off for the crowd

18 Songs
90 Minutes

Judging by the singing in my back corner of the stalls, there were very few newbies or curious in this West London crowd. The band would not have to work too hard, but that did not stop Jon Foreman from putting his all into the show and treating the audience like it was his best mate.

Switchfoot can run the risk of their crowds falling into two groups along the faith lines, so with “Mess of Me” and “Stars” they started with off by forging plenty of common ground. By the latter Foreman was already on the shoulders of those in the front rows, something he would come back to several times.

“Restless” is one of the highlights from the new Vice Verses album and also a high point here – not least because it followed a break from the band’s own music as they covered the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”

SwitchfootUKTour2011Web360As “Restless” began, Foreman disappeared from view, but it was easy to locate him, because a circle of cameras pointed down at him as he moved through the crowd. It was like telling where a shoal of fish is by the seagulls hovering overhead. For most of the show, my view was restricted to a couple of heads on stage and a quick flash of the shaggy-haired frontman hoisting his guitar in the air (I only saw him with it when he wasn’t playing it). So it made me feel more a part of the show when I had to step aside to let him get past on the way to the balustrade around the sound desk, where he stood reaching up to hands hanging down from the circle during the verses and turned, left arm aloft,  to call out the chorus.

He had to return the way he came and the girls beside me were so delighted that they were still laughing through most of “Thrive,” the comedown song that followed.

It may have been showmanship but the singer made a lot of the UK connections. “Restless” was written here, drummer Chad Butler spent a lot of time here and the UK was the first place they played outside of San Diego, he told us. We were also apparently treated to the first live account of the title track anywhere.

We don’t get voting rights for American offices over here, but he turned down the request that urged “Jon Foreman for President” on the back of a huge banner, claiming that he did not want the job.

With volume relatively low, Switchfoot eschewed blasting us, making the gig a more intimate meeting of musicians and music lovers. It was all about contact.

It was easy to hear the songs and they were generally true to the original (the gorgeous synth lead in “This is your Life” filled the hall more than it fills the speakers at home) but there was some tinkering: “The War Inside” had the now obligatory lets-all-play-tom-toms break. I was hoping the “Girls of America”-type vocal chant in “Dark Horses” would be much longer than on record, but no such luck.

There was a surprise in the song selection, too: the massive eruption into Vice Verses that is “Afterlife” would have been a great opener or a superb closer, but it did not happen. Perhaps they were saving that as a treat for a different venue.

As it was, the encore threw up surprises too. Foreman appeared in the circle to sing “Where I Belong” – an enjoyable track on the disc that feels just short of a resolution. Live, that tension made the piece anthemic; a great way to come back into the hall. “The Sound,” for all the merits of its lyrics, is too angular to be a proper finisher. It was a good thing then, that our corner had been singing the chant from “Hello Hurricane” before both encores. When he came back onstage, already packing up his mic, Foreman told us that as we had been singing it, we might as well sing it along with the band. That was a great song to finish a gig that lingered deliciously in the head long after it finished.

Complete set-list:
Mess of Me; Stars; Oh Gravity; The War Inside; This is Your Life; Your Love is a Song; Sabotage; Restless; Thrive; Needle and Haystack Girl; Dare You to Move; Vice Verses; Dark Horses; Meant to Live.

Encores: Where I Belong; The Sound (John M. Perkins Blues); Hello Hurricane.


Derek Walker