Anyone old enough to remember the days of AOR — and obviously you aren’t if you don’t know it stands for album-oriented rock — probably didn’t attend the Switchfoot concert Friday night at the Ogden. That’s a shame, because the alternative pop-rock band did what few bands have since Pink Floyd wished we were here: They played their latest release live from beginning to end. That’s right, tracks 1 to 12, in order.
The point of playing the whole thing, lead singer Jon Foreman explained, is that “Hello Hurricane” is a progressive package. As once was the case with the rock albums of days gone by, the San Diego-based band — named for the surfing term that refers to riding waves alternately with your regular (left) foot and then your “goofy” (right) one forward — wrote the songs as a progression, using the storm as a metaphor for life. “We wanted it to play like a hurricane,” Foreman said as he introduced the final song from the disc, “Red Eyes,” a lullaby laced with jaunty mandolin that showcases Foreman’s strong vocals. “Past, present and then the aftermath. You can choose the way you react as things are happening in life. You can choose the way you treat people after the storm.”
The truth is, I hadn’t been that enamored of the happy-grunge sound of “Hello Hurricane” — or not nearly as much as I was of previous efforts “Learning to Breathe,” “The Beautiful Letdown,” or “Nothing is Sound” — at least, not until they played it like this. There’s a lot to be said for hearing music the way a band intended, and this is a ballad-heavy set that benefits from the progression.
On the other hand, the weird thing about sitting through an entire disc is that it didn’t feel as though the real concert started until after the 12th song. Up until that point, it was almost like a tutorial. Most of the audience clearly hadn’t heard a majority of the tunes — the exception would be the poppy, anthemic “Mess of Me,” the one getting airplay and most reminiscent of their earlier, harder-edged music — and so when a song would start up, there would be a few awkward seconds where it felt as though everyone was straining for recognition, and then there was palpable relaxation when the room just decided to go with it.
The band has rocked “Hello Hurricane” in its entirety a few times since this tour kicked off, so they had some confidence it would fly. But still. It was a risk that paid off, although truth be told, the concert didn’t really, really jam until they finished the final cut and Foreman asked, “Is it O.K. if we play some older songs now?”
And that’s when the already energetic group — with Foreman’s younger brother Tim on bass guitar, Jerome Fontamillas on keyboards and guitar, Drew Shirley on guitar and Chad Butler on drums — went all in, starting with “Stars,” a crunchy, multi-layered version that brought out all of the guitars in full force and reminded us why this band is so fun live.
Following that up with “Oh! Gravity” and “Gone” was a hard-charging, one-two punch of unrelenting guitar, zippy synthesizer and audience interaction that really brought the house alive.
Jon Foreman hauled out the acoustic guitar several times, most notably for “Daisy,” which someone in the front row had requested. “This is everything I was hoping for tonight,” he said as he launched into an emotionally charged take on the lyrical piece that always surprises with its crackling ax at the end.
The final song, one of the band’s biggest hits, “Meant to Live,” gave the fans a chance the sing along with whole stanzas and ended the evening on a way-high note.
Foreman was chatty, effusive and generous with his love for the all-ages audience, which was heavy on thirtysomething moms and their pre-teen sons and under-21 couples; he started the concert out on the second floor and mid-way pushed out into the center by walking on chairs. Few concerts have as much singalong and discussion of why a song was written or sharing about life and personal journeys as this one did, and the audience responded with a lot of visible affection back.
At one point, Foreman discussed how close the band and the roadies are — “We’re all like family,” he said before grabbing one big, burly bald guy for a bear hug — and another time he explained how “Dare You to Move,” the band’s other big hit, came about. “I like to write songs about things I don’t understand,” he said. “God and girls and politics. A three-minute pop song is a good way to write about that stuff without getting shot.”
Follow Reverb on Twitter! Here!
Kyle Wagner is the travel editor for The Denver Post, a music freak and periodic Reverb contributor. She discovered the joys of Switchfoot in 2002 when her teenage daughter made her see the horrible Mandy Moore movie “A Walk to Remember.”