At a time when we undeniably need it the most — hope, love, passion… these forces surround those inside the historic Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz, California. Fans gather in a line that wraps around the blocks of the illuminated town, amidst the rain. Excitement is buzzing for the show tonight: San Diego’s very own Switchfoot, with the support of Relient K. Each band has nearly twenty years since their beginning… and tonight they are here with one purpose: Looking for America.
The digital clock stage left shows the time; 7:59 PM. As the seconds count down the hour, the crowd counts down with it. 5, 4…3, 2…1! The stage is dimly lit in magentas and violet hues, a beautiful white ornate piano sits in the center. Without much delay, Nashville natives, Relient K shuffle onto the stage. They begin the night straight into one of their older tracks, “High of 75” which immediately gets the crowd moving. There is no pause between this 2004 hit, right to the first track off their latest release titled “Bummin’” off of the album, Air For Free. Lead singer, Matt Thiessen jokes about having a case of the hiccups, but you wouldn’t know it with how he takes a seat behind the stunning piano, his hands dancing in a frenzy to play the upbeat “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” in a teeter-tottering back and forth between the old and the new on their setlist.
It has been some time since we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a band on stage that is smiling every second of it. This is definitely the case for Relient K, who are so clearly feeding off the positive energy from the won over crowd. Laughter echoes through the venue as Thiessen introduces the next song, labeling it as his favorite from Air For Free and warning the fans who haven’t heard the track, “it’s a little weird.” The band performs “Elephant Parade,” and the song ends with Thiessen’s hips shaking wildly as he stands up from his seat in front of the piano, grinning from ear to ear as he moves to hit the final note with guitarist, Matthew Hoopes.
“Are you guys excited for Switchfoot? We are too — but first, we have a lot more songs.”
Thiessen teases the crowd, mid-set list. The band performs “Forget And Not Slow Down” which bleeds directly into “Sahara,” a personal favorite track which features the sounds of a metal Easton baseball bat, which is carefully secured to Jake’s keyboard setup.
After working the crowd up with high tempo tracks (both “Sahara” followed by “I Need You”), things are slowed down significantly as the lights dim, the venue pitch black. A single spotlight shines over the piano for an acoustic introduction to the track titled, “God.” This beautiful song needs no introduction — the lyrics emphasizing the belief in life, love, in peace and fear and in God himself.
“I think that so far was my favorite experience performing that song… it’s like you cared.”
Matt half jokes, half praises to a crowd yelling thank you’s and various compliments to the band performing on stage. They kick off to their title track, “Air For Free” before riling up the crowd with arguably one of their best-known tracks, “I Must Have Done Something Right.”
With a little back story, Matt explains how the band went about their day: being from Nashville, Thiessen says he hasn’t seen much of the sun in over two weeks. Imagine his excitement to see the start of the tour set in California…only to arrive in the middle of one of the biggest storms we’ve seen in quite some time. Though, they didn’t let this hold him back. Thiessen shares a story of his time spent with an old, native Santa Cruz gentleman who said he loved the rain and explained how much California needs it now… after the enlightening talk, Matt jokes he took a trip down to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (which he playfully labeled as ‘crappy’ and excused it due to it being in transition and the promise that he’d return when it’s all fixed up to retract his statement), saw a bunch of sea lions, the waves, Switchfoot’s own Chad Butler surfing the waves… he paints this whole story to emphasize that there was so much to be done, albeit the lack of sun, there was still a day to be had where he wasn’t staring at his phone…
…the perfect preface for their track titled “Look On Up” which echoes the lyric: ‘It’s time I put down my devices and I start to live my life.’
There is appraisal for the good vibes at the Catalyst. Relient K jokes with the crowd, Matt Hoopes sharing that there are places where they do not feel at home but how tonight, in Santa Cruz, it definitely is not one of those places. The band wraps up their set list with more tracks off of their latest release: “Mountaintop,” “Empty House,” perfectly placed between their older hits, “Sadie Hawkins Dance,” “Don’t Blink,” and of course, “Be My Escape.”
Their set list ends in blinding blue lights, a ballad which starts off with just the piano. The band performs their 2007 track, “Deathbed,” complete with Jon Foreman of Switchfoot who recorded vocals for the song off of their album, “Five Score And Seven Years Ago.” This ten-minute track was anything but dragged out, as Thiessen’s hands criss and cross over themselves, dancing along the keys of the piano. The band hit the middle-point, a mid-break in the song where it picks up, showing pure ecstasy of their performance. Thiessen’s tongue sticks out in a playful manner before singing the song again. Jon Foreman takes the stage, dashing towards the piano to play the notes alongside his friend, helping to finish off the song and their set with absolutely astonishing positive energy and pure joy.
After a short intermission, the curtain beyond the stage drops… Switchfoot. It’s the moment the crowd has been waiting for. The lights are off. Darkness sweeps over The Catalyst as a woman’s voice can be heard — “We are looking for America…and here you are.” — the announcement is cut and Switchfoot takes the stage, kicking things off with “Holy Water” their introduction track off of latest album, “Where The Light Shines Through,” their popular 2003 hit, “Meant To Live” and “Oh! Gravity.”
“This is one of my favorite places on the planet!”
Foreman praises our historic venue as he takes a moment to speak to the crowd, addressing us like friends rather than fans. He explains, “…this is a weird time to be in America.” He touches base on how there is so much hate and it drives him crazy, it sucks him in…until he realizes, “…My hope was never in Washington DC. It was never in New York. It is in our souls, the unconditional love we share…” he labels the next a song of solace as the band performs “I Won’t Let You Go.”
The high energy never falters as fans dance and jump, the crowd moving in waves. Blue lights wash over the stage as they take a moment, Jon Foreman introducing each of his bandmates… Jerome Fontamillas comes from the back of the stage, an accordion in hand. Chad Butler brings his snare drum from his kit and the brothers band in front of a single microphone. As San Diego natives, Jon Foreman expresses he knows how desperately California needs this rain, but he teases, ‘it’s been feeling a bit like a hurricane.’ He explains that the next track is from an album created and inspired by their own personal storms and how they realized that those personal obstacles may not always be something you can control, but what can be controlled is your outlook and handle of the situation.
The band perform an acoustic version of “Hello, Hurricane” around the single microphone, singing with their arms wrapped around each other, smiling and laughing for one of the more intimate moments I have ever seen shared on a stage. The positivity is overwhelming as the crowd chimes in, voices echoing through the old walls, as if a church sermon singing up to the heavens above.
There is never a moment where the connection between the band and fans cannot be felt. Foreman shares his experiences with the crowd as though we’re old friends gathered. He shares intimate memories which fueled the next song, “If The House Burns Down Tonight” and the firefighters who saved their studio from turning to ashes. Foreman shares how he realizes, in those moments, nothing matters but those you are walking away unscathed beside. That those souls matter. That it is apparent as he looks around to the crowd, in all our infinite youth.
It has been quite some time since we’ve experience a performance so passion-driven, so full of love, hope, inspiration. Jon Foreman’s own guitar is studded with the quote — HOPE IS THE ANTHEM — The show is slowly winding down, but you wouldn’t know it from the pure elation on the faces of both the band and those attending. The band wraps up the evening with “The Sound” as the heavy bass riffs vibrate through the structure and “Where I Belong.”
Fans beg for just a taste more…and Switchfoot doesn’t hold out for long before returning to stage for their encore. As they perform “Float,” the venue is filled with bubbles, in a playful, exciting exchange. “Live It Well” and “Dare You To Move” follows, with an explosion of red, white and blue confetti celebrating the night, life, love, hope… and of course, America.
It cannot be emphasized enough, just the sheer passion that emulates from both bands. Each took the time to explain the organization they have on the road with them — CURE International — which is a non-profit that focuses on serving children in poverty, providing them with surgeries for conditions Americans would count as ‘mild’ or ‘simple surgeries’ but are life changing for those CURE treat. Matt Thiessen proudly shared that from the donations on the Part 1 of their tour, 100 surgeries were made possible… 100 lives changed for the better. If you cannot make it out to a show, at the very least check out CURE’s official website, here: https://cure.org/
And if that’s not enough for you — to be able to even begin to imagine the euphoric state of hopefulness and compassion that those leaving the Catalyst felt on Sunday night, take it from Jon Foreman himself. In a blog released the following day, about the first day of tour (which was Saturday, three hours away in Fresno, California)… he said:
Tonight we will sing our songs in an old theater in Fresno. And before we play a note, you’ll find me praying for strength. Strength to live out a life of love and service. Strength to sing these songs of hope. Because our world is splintered with fear and hatred and pain. Because one individual does not define a nation, we the people do. Because the cynic is just a dreamer with a broken heart. Because love tells a better story than my fears do. Because hope deserves an anthem.
Words by Jon Foreman, read his full post here.
What better anthem than the inspiring lyrics peppered throughout each and every Switchfoot track? This show was one for the books and we will never forget it.
Meant To Live
Bull In A China Shop
Where The Light Shines
Won’t Let You Go
Worth The Fight
House Burns Down
Where I Belong
Live It Well
Dare You To Move
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