Switchfoot smoothly shifts gears
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff | April 20, 2004

WORCESTER -- Switchfoot, a San Diego band that believes rock 'n' roll should still have social meaning rather than dwell on ego and narcissism, has been a surprise hit this year. The group's radio single, "Meant to Live," packs a U2-like wallop with its inspiring, pacifist cry: "We want more than the world's got to offer/We want more than the wars of our fathers." The song concludes, "We were meant to live for so much more -- have we lost ourselves?"


Before a young, sold-out crowd at the Palladium, Switchfoot singer Jon Foreman, in a move directly inspired by U2's Bono, also talked of the need to fight AIDS in Africa, where "1,000 people per day" die of the disease, he said.

It was an evening of crunching, three-guitar rock on the one hand, but also of poignant, change-of-pace acoustic songs and shifting sonic colors that suggested Switchfoot pays as much attention to its music as to its social beliefs.

And here's a wonderful paradox: Switchfoot's new radio track, "Dare You to Move," has just been chosen as theme song for the MTV-sponsored Rock the Vote campaign. Yet, the band also debuted a new song Friday called "Without Politicians," with its John Lennon-like declaration: "I pledge allegiance to a world without borders . . . without politicians." The moral: Get out to vote, but just don't vote for a politician!

OK, in case you couldn't tell, Switchfoot is a fervently idealistic band. Occasionally, the group can get gooey about it (a few songs were borderline mushy), but most were direct hits on the heart. Sharp melodies, sweet vocal harmonies and a thoughtful mix of electric guitars and keyboard electronica made for a sophisticated, postmodern package.

Frankly, the band had more musical depth than expected. Songs from Switchfoot's breakthrough album, "The Beautiful Letdown," which constituted much of the show, took on new life from the recorded versions. Foreman brought a more spontaneous flow to album tracks "This is Your Life," "Ammunition" (with its bold line, "What a mess we've made of love"), and "Twenty-Four," which he played solo acoustic, accenting the verse, "I want to see miracles."

It was a positive, uplifting night, owing also to Foreman's quietly charismatic brother, Tim, on bass, to keyboardist (and occasional third guitarist) Jerome Fontamillas, drummer Chad Butler, and a fifth member added for the tour, guitarist Drew Shirley. Don't be surprised to see these guys playing the arenas before long. They have the songs and the crowd rapport (fans sang along to every verse) to get there.