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POP MUSIC REVIEW

A tonic for the times

Switchfoot stays on the straight and slightly narrow while exploring a bigger sound and some new turf.

November 14, 2005|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

The music of Switchfoot is forceful, polished and not quite distinctive. It is also genuinely emotional and inoffensive by design, with a message that was clear enough at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre on Friday: Up with people!

This young band of San Diego surfers first broke onto the Christian rock scene in the late '90s, but has since crossed way over into mainstream radio with the hits "Stars" and "Meant to Live."

On Friday, those songs had big guitars and bigger pop hooks, at times leaning somewhere between the Lemonheads and later Goo Goo Dolls.

"If you're the clapping type, and wear deodorant," declared singer Jon Foreman, "put your hands up!"

Fans were doing as much anyway, raising open arms and camera-phones and signs that announced a 16th birthday or simply read "3:16" -- presumably a New Testament notation. But Christian references in the songs ("Where can you run to escape from yourself? / Where you gonna go? / Salvation is here") were often as oblique as U2's .

Other songs were almost grunge-like, the rougher edges carefully polished on "Dare You to Move" and "This Is Your Life," with melodies soft and loud and generally aimed right at the airwaves.

Foreman frequently leapt to the drum riser for a better view, shouting and singing his urgent lyrics. But when he added a verse from Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'," the result was unbearably thin, aside from a muscular blast of harmonica. Switchfoot is better when sticking to its own words of wisdom.

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