When San Diego rockers Switchfoot come to town, they break all of the rules.
The first broken rule? No climbing the railings of the historic Bijou Theatre. Yet, that was exactly what frontman Jon Foreman did, scaling the speakers on the left of the stage and joining the patrons on the second story balcony – anything to get closer to the fans.
The second? Christian bands can't make good music for a broad audience. Yet, that was exactly what Switchfoot did when the band had its diversely-aged and gendered audience screaming along with their rock 'n' roll hits and swaying to their emotional, broken-down ballads.
Switchfoot, made up of Jon Foreman, his brother and bassist Tim Foreman, guitarist Drew Shirley, guitar and pianist Jerome Fontamillas and drummer Chad Butler, proved Friday, March 14, why they have been an important part of the alt-rock scene since 1996 – their intensely personal and incredibly exciting live show.
Hayley Brundige • The Daily Beacon
Kopecky Family Band members Gabe Simon (left) and Kelsey Kopecky, (right) opened for Switchfoot at the Bijou Theatre on March 14.
Opener the Kopecky Family Band did its part to set up the evening. Although the band is large (its six-person band was unusual for an opener), the enthusiasm in the group's music eventually won over the slow-to-react Bijou audience. Kopecky combined the musical diversity of bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros with the duoed vocals of Of Monsters and Men to create a wildly exciting and heavily trombone-based performance.
When Switchfoot arrived in the group's infinite subtlety, the audience was ready to go all in with Jon Foreman, a fact the frontman soon realized when he told the audience, "That's the loudest sound I've heard in Knoxville that didn't involve orange jerseys."
One of the best parts of Switchfoot's live shows is how well the band creates a distinct atmosphere, one of liveliness tempered with with introspection, darkness balanced with hope.
Fresh off a tour that showcased their rockumentary "Fading West," the band used these visuals to emphasize the mood. And nothing goes with Switchfoot's beachy influences better than a crashing wave on the four screens behind them.
The sincerity with which the band brings its passion to the stage is also entirely evident. Jon Foreman does his homework on the venues the group visits, and during Friday night's show, used this knowledge to set up the melancholy "Vice Verses."
"The third floor balcony above you guys used to be for African-Americans," he said. "They had to use a separate staircase. But this was also the first theater to let black people in. So, we have our vices and our virtues, this bad history and yet a great hope."
Hayley Brundige • The Daily Beacon
Jon Foreman, lead singer of Switchfoot, climbs out into the crowd on March 14 at the Bijou Theatre.
And so the show continued, with emotionally-driven highs and lows that kept the audience actively engaged with Switchfoot's performance, even with the newer songs from the group's recently-released album "Fading West."
After the show ended, a dedicated 30 or so people waited outside the Bijou's stage door for what has become a staple for Switchfoot's live performances – band meet and greets and an acoustic aftershow given by Jon Foreman.
They were not disappointed, as the entire band stuck around to engage with fans and take pictures. Finally Foreman emerged, guitar in hand and willing to give even more of himself to the small audience.
This is how on a chilly Friday night, 30 avid fans surrounded an outstanding musician as they sang one of the band's older songs, "Only Hope," the variety of voices bringing a smile to Foreman's face as the music drifted into the downtown sky.