So, early word was that these two long-time veteran bands would be heading out on a co-headlining tour, where Anberlin and Switchfoot take turns on who closes out the night (i.e. headlines the individual show). As the Austin, TX, date of the tour got closer, it was anyone’s guess as to who would headline the fairly large outdoor venue that was part of the Stubb’s BBQ restaurant in downtown Austin.
Then there was the announcement posted on Anberlin’s Facebook page that detailed how Stephen Christian would be leaving the tour suddenly to take care of an urgent family matter. Here’s an excerpt from the post:
we wanted to let you know about something that has just come up and that we had to make a decision on. Stephen has to leave the tour early to tend to some urgent family issues at home, and so we were faced with a last minute decision to either drop off the tour early OR figure out a creative way to not cancel some of our favorite cities. So we have decided to do something we have never done before, and we hope you will have as much fun with this as we will.
Starting in Dallas at the House of Blues show, we will have our close friends Phil and Dan from Story of the Year both fill in on vocals for the few remaining shows on this tour. They were available at the last minute and have agreed to help us out. This is sure to be a memorable experience, and we are beyond stoked to have those guys out with us. This is all the more reason to come out and share in this unique show experience! We assure you it will be way too much fun, so come out and do this with us!!
This added an extra element of surprise and mystery to the show, for sure. “Was Stephen okay? How would the band sound with two substitutes? Who would sing what songs?” All these legitimate questions went through probably everyone’s mind.
After a short energetic set by Atomic Tom, Anberlin decided to show how well they’d step up and perform minus a key member. Turns out they did really well.
It was a predominantly Cities-heavy set, though “Never Take Friendship Personal” was the third song and we heard a few tunes from New Surrender and Dark is the Way, Light is a Place.
“The show must go on!” the band said more than once as they briefly explained the special nature of this night’s show.
“The Resistance” had that Anberlin energy we’ve come to expect. Yes, Dan and Phil were delivering. At times you could close your eyes and pretend it was Stephen up there. At other times it wasn’t too far of a visual difference between Stephen and his backups. This was notable (especially by Phil) when prompting the crowd to clap above their heads. Unfortunately, there were times where it was obvious that it wasn’t Stephen up there. The first few vocals lines of a few songs were not “up” in the mix, making it difficult to hear. The Monday morning quarterback in me wondered if Anberlin wasn’t traveling with their own soundman. When hearing the chorus to Alexithmia I found myself thinking about the song structure instead of just “feeling it.” Not a great job, but certainly not sloppy or bad, just a slight shortcoming on the vocals there.
A darkened stage set up the perfect mood for “The Unwinding Cable Car.” Phil and Dan traded off the verse/counter verses well. And Joseph and Dean on acoustics sounded great. “Godspeed” turned up the speed and energy and then the band culminated their almost one-hour set with “Feel Good Drag,” which included Phil getting up around the VIP balcony and singing a song between a stair railing and a large tree.
Overall, it wasn’t a peak moment or approaching the best live performance I’d heard from Anberlin, but it had its moments and it was a job well done.
Switchfoot came out and launched into “Mess of Me” and it showed the band firing on all cylinders right out of the blocks. It didn’t feel like a “warmup song” at all. Next they played “Stars” and frontman Jon Foreman started roaming the limits of the stage – something he’d surely explore more throughout the set. He was connecting to the audience already. This dude is a good frontman … and he was only just beginning his night. He climbed over the barricade and held on to some folks for balance as he sang.
That was the end of the third song and it was my time to vacate the photo pit. The general rule at big shows is that those with photo pass credentials get to stand and roam the area between the barricade and the stage. It’s arguably the best seat in the house for the first three songs. Though I’ve never officially been told a reason from any label or publicist, I’m convinced the three-song limit exists because most any artist will start to sweat profusely at the average show shortly after about this time in the set … and performers don’t always want their photos taken to be shown everywhere when they’re all sweaty and disheveled. (That’s just my theory).
As I left the photo pit, I decided I’d head back into the tightly-packed crowd to find several of my friends and watch the rest of the show with them. The was performing “This is Your Life” and it sounded and looked and felt so good that I kind of just stopped in my tracks. Forget trying to find another spot. I had a good view here about 10 or 15 rows back to the left of center. To be honest, I just quickly realized that it was too good of a moment to bother distracting myself with weaving through a crowd.
Foreman shared that he loved being in Austin, loved being at this show and how privileged they all felt to be playing music. “I just met a friend that had these lyrics tattooed on his arm.” The audience sang along to the “Yeah-eah’s” of “This Is Your Life” and he ended his vocals by loudly singing, “Who ya wanna be?” into the pickups of his vintage guitar.
Foreman later sang “Dare You To Move” while perched atop a one-inch wide railing under that big tree on the side. He sang on the VIP balcony, slapping hands, singing to people, wearing someone’s hat and hanging over the railing to address the crowd below. He was obviously making friends both near and far.
Next thing you know he made his way back onto a dark and blue stage after a long Bono-esque departure and was handed something. Looked like a mic at first, which made me wonder if he’d damaged his wireless with his own personal crowd participation. Turns out it was a harmonica and he started “Your Love is a Song.” A great little slow-down moment that captured as much attention as his crowd wandering did.
After the song was over I looked at my watch and it was only 10 pm. Only a half-hour had gone by, but the band had packed so much energy and so many highs that it felt like an entire concert had been performed. Talk about crafting great dynamics into their set! Wow. It was like not a single moment was wasted. It felt like we all had just caught our first breath when they played their new single, “Dark Horses.”
“Meant To Live” was a standout moment. It was powerful. The crowd sang along loudly and in key. Very nice. Foreman turned his mic to the crowd after a verse and held it high for the audience to sing the next. We were loud. It sounded great. There were lots of great lights at the back of the stage behind the band. There were dancing intelli-beams and a fair amount of fog. Killer show dynamics…
“Afterlife” sounded big and moody. “The Sound” was loud, brash and lively. Foreman dedicated it to the man he wrote it for – John M. Perkins. When he sang the line, “the static comes alive” he dragged it out with a little tremolo in his voice, which sounded really cool. More big bright lights shined in the chorus.
Wow. What an awesome show. Fabulous.