It's been some time since I've been to Philadelphia staple venue The Trocadero. One of the most prominent memories of the old theater was seeing The Newsboys years ago in 2005 when they packed out the club and performed a worship-centric set for the Philly residents. I also remember the theater seeming a bit rundown in some ways - especially its ceiling. Upon revisiting The Troc earlier this week, I discovered something rather interesting. A lot of the decor had been redone and the ceiling was gorgeous! Clearly some work had been done to pick up the building a bit and it certainly showed.
On the eve of the release of Switchfoot's latest album, Vice Verses, we had the pleasure of not only attending the co-headlining tour featuring Switchfoot and Anberlin, but interviewing Switchfoot as well. For this unique tour, Anberlin and Switchfoot were sharing the headlining slot, so they chose to swap who would play first and last each night. A band called Atomic Tom opened up the night, but after them, it would be either Switchfoot or Anberlin. For this Monday night show, Switchfoot was performing first, getting an 8pm stage time with Anberlin set to close. I was more than eager to see Switchfoot again after their recent memorable Rock The Universe performance in Orlando, and the fact that Vice Verses was dropping the next day just made me more pumped for it.
After a set change, the San Diego fivesome was prepped and ready. I was secretly holding out hope for a wealth of new songs to be added into their set, but considering that the majority of their audience hadn't heard them just yet, it made perfect sense to keep their most recognizable songs at the forefront of their setlist. Frontman Jon Foreman emerged in a sweater pulled over a white dress shirt and black tie - an ensemble he'd lessen in layers as the set progressed. "Mess Of Me" set the tone for what would be a pretty solid collection of rock and pop rock tunes. "Stars," from Nothing Is Sound, followed, and then I got my wish. With the band soaking in reds and blues from the stage lights above, they broke into "The War Inside," one of the highlights from Vice Verses. Afterwards, Foreman took a moment to talk to his Philly audience and reminisced about how this very day was the 10th anniversary of the release of their third album, Learning To Breathe. To the glee of every longtime fan present, they then performed the title track, "Learning to Breathe," before Foreman introduced another new song, "Restless," and encouraged the crowd to sing along. Rather spontaneously, Foreman climbed up a speaker stack and into the balcony. He waded through the audience, stopped in a few areas along the way to continue to sing to the crowd, thrilling the fans around him. He then made his way to the center of the balcony and lead the audience in singing "Restless." While he remained in the balcony, he shared a story about how they had been dropped by their record label years ago when the label felt The Beautiful Letdown had no hits on it, but that Philly had been an encouraging place to perform. Appropriately, they performed "Dare You To Move" next, while Foreman still clung to the balcony and the rest of the band played on stage. As they wrapped up the track, Jon waded through the audience on the floor and climbed back on stage. He talked about the charity Stand Up For Kids from their hometown and how it inspired them to pen the rocker "Dark Horses," which they performed next. The Beautiful Letdown's "This Is Your Life" followed, accompanied by rousing cheers of appreciation from the fans, and Jon giving a special harmonica intro to "Your Love Is A Song" after it. "Needle and Haystack Life" was next and they then wrapped their set with their mega hit, "Meant To Live." The guys exited the stage and when they came back, Jon seemed just as pumped as the audience to continue the show, promising two more songs in their encore. The first song was what is arguably one of the most powerful songs the band has penned yet, an emotional rock anthem for Heaven, "Where I Belong." But if the new song wasn't a satisfying enough end for Philly (and I would have been more than happy with it myself), Foreman announced that the next song was written for his personal hero, John M. Perkins, and they proceeded to perform "This Is The Sound" before exiting the stage.
Now, like Switchfoot, I've been a fan of Anberlin since the release of their debut album. The thought of seeing a tour with Anberlin and Switchfoot together not only sounded like a perfect match, but also a truly engaging pair-up. However, after watching Switchfoot open, I felt more than satisfied - like eating a hearty meal with maybe just enough room for dessert. However, Anberlin doesn't really perform such a show. Their set is largely filled with fast rock songs that, while I enjoy them, often seem to run into each other after awhile. So the concept of having the two bands together looks great on paper, and probably would work better with Anberlin opening for Switchfoot, but the other way around seemed more uneven. The frenetic stage presence that Stephen Christian has, coupled with dark lighting and the faster songs just felt, at least on this particular evening, like a bit of a mismatch. Still, as I said before, I like Anberlin, and I'm still thrilled the bands were performing together. With barely any light illuminating the stage, the guys opened, surprisingly, with "Alexithymia," from their most popular album, Cities, before moving on to "We Owe This To Ourselves" (a better opener?) from their most recent release, Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place (which released this month last year). Fan favorite "Paperthin Hymn" followed, and then the title track from Never Take Friendship Personal, continuing what was proving to be a real nice mix of songs from their catalog. "The Resistance" followed, along with "The Art Of War" before they slowed things down for a special acoustic set, starting off with "Unwinding Cable Car" and then "Reclusion" and "Breaking." At this point, the guys resumed the full-band experience for one of their best songs, "Dismantle. Repair." and moved into "Impossible" before getting pretty rowdy for "Godspeed." Stephen was beginning to lose himself in the song as he grabbed a mic stand, with a mic still attached to it, extended it over into the crowd to capture some of the crowd vocals and then literally tossed the whole stand (with mic) behind him onto the stage. He did this again with another mic stand and mic before tossing his own handheld microphone onto the stage. Knowing how fragile microphones can be, I was a little shocked to see him just tossing - not one, but three - microphones to the stage floor. But Christian's reckless abandon didn't end there. During their closer, "The Feel Good Drag," he closed the song by throwing himself into the audience to barely be caught by a sea of hands. The guys did leave the stage and return for one encore, rounding out their song list at fifteen with the epic finale, "Fin."
For some time now, Jon Foreman has been finding secluded spots near the venues Switchfoot plays at to perform a mini acoustic after-show. He usually would tweet something from the band's Twitter feed and his own personal one about where it will be and when, and tonight was no exception. A message to meet under the Chinatown arch at 11:20 didn't just attract us, but a sizable group of eager fans who wanted to help celebrate the release of Vice Verses, which would now only be a few minutes from this post-show's start time. When Foreman showed up at the arch, he was shocked by the size of the attendance and told us that this was the largest post-show gathering he'd had yet. With a busy street running through the crowd, he ushered the mini-mob across the street into a parking lot and, joined by the rest of the band, lead the group in an acoustic, unplugged rendition of a new song called "Souvenirs." Foreman mentioned that this was the first time they were playing the song as a band. The crowd was large enough that if you weren't really close to the guys, it was very difficult to hear anything... something that worsened when a horde of vehicles with blaring sirens roared by. The guys then performed a "special" acoustic version of "Dark Horses" before settling on "Vice Verses" as the set closer. Before Foreman could complete the song, however, he cut it short and decided it was wise to break up the gathering. It turned out that we had been congregating in the Greyhound bus lot and the folks running it weren't too keen on us being there.
Overall, it was a great night of quality rock music. Although the night could have used a little restructuring to get the best out of the performers, no genuine fault can be found in a pair-up of Switchfoot and Anberlin. Sure, the passion of Switchfoot and the depth in their songwriting may outshine Anberlin some in a live setting, but I'm sure most fans of either band won't feel that way. Still, you can't go wrong with a tour like this one, so if it heads your way, try not to miss it!-- John DiBiase, 9/29/11
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