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A Storm Rolls into Baltimore - An Evening with Switchfoot

Often when I listen to a new album for the first time, I wonder whether or not the music would fly in a live setting.  I analyze each song with this in mind.  Sometimes I hear a song and claim, “Oh, I can see why that song couldn’t be includ[img_assist|nid=2112|title=Jon Foreman at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=324|height=219]ed in the live set!”  Production, mixing, extra instrument tracks, guest vocalists and musicians … well, these elements cannot always be brought onto the road, right?  So when I heard that Switchfoot was heading out on tour to play the entire Hello Hurricane album, I pondered how it would come off.

The concept of playing an album start to finish hasn’t occurred in all of my live music experiences.  But I knew I wanted to experience it for the first time with this tour, titled “An Evening with Switchfoot”.  After playing all tracks in order, Switchfoot promised a second set with songs from their previous releases.

At first, the tour was reported to be hitting only a few cities in November as an extended release party following November 10th when the “storm” hit the streets.  I was making plans to go south to Altanta or Nashville, when Baltimore was added to the tour dates for a second round of shows in December.  Quite happily, a Philadelphia show was also added, which is in my backyard.  I tried not to read early reviews of the tour, eagerly awaiting the trek to the mid-Atlantic coast.

While I had no doubt that the California dudes would be able[img_assist|nid=2113|title=Jon Foreman|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=142|height=210] to take the studio bred songs out on the road, I was still blown away by the entire show.  Indeed, the album can be taken away from the confines of a studio built by Switchfoot in Southern California, and moved on a bus with trailer to clubs across the USA and soon Canada.

Despite a smaller set than recent tours, the seagull theme from the album art was well done on stage.  The lights helped to bring each song an experience that fit well with each song.  The show proved that the order of songs on the album was well chosen.  Of course, it was great to know the song order before the show even began.  And despite the fact that the album was out for just about four weeks, most sang along as if the melodies were old hat.  This made for a great atmosphere, and solidified my desire for this band to remain a club touring outfit.

With each Switchfoot concert, I wonder where front man Jon Foreman might climb during the show.  At Rams Head Live! in Baltimore when the band opened for Blue October this past summer, Jon found himself in a bit of a predicament when he was not sure how to get down from a place where he had climbed.  This time, he played it safe and took the stairs.  With mic in hand and the band poised on stage, Jon began the show on a balcony, surprising a few fans who expected to be far away from the action.  Before the end of “Needle and Haystack Life”, he walked through the audience and took the stage.  As is usually the case, Jon came closer to the audience and hung out on the barricade throughout the show. 

You might think that the band just stood up there singing songs straight through.  But Jon usually took time before a song to explain the background of the lyrics and song themes.  The tour also included changes on the stage, with band members taking different places.  In fact, if you came in thinking you would be on Tim Foreman’s side, you would in fact be on Drew Shirley’s side. Yes, if you have not heard, Drew was moved to the front, and now has a microphone for the first time in his time with the band!  Jerome Fontamillas brought out the accordion for “Yet” with Chad Butler playing a single drum in front of his drum kit.  (Jerome used to play an accordion on “More than Fine” a few years back.)  Plus Tim, Jon and Jerome played drums at key points.  Jon played piano for “Always”.  And those are just some of the instruments that came out throughout the night, making the transition from studio to live a great experience.

 [img_assist|nid=2114|title=Drew Shirley|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=284|height=192]I wonder which songs will continue once this special album tour is over.  My favorite song seen live was “Free” when Jon and Jerome pounded on the drums together with Chad.  At this point, I don’t think I could get tired anytime soon hearing “Mess of Me” at more shows.  (Then again, I used to say that for “Meant to Live”.)  It would be fun if the band asked the fans which songs should remain. Though they may not know at this time which songs will make the cut, I’d bet they have started the discussion.

After the album portion of the concert was complete, the band left the stage upon asking the audience to sing the song they wanted to hear next.  As for the second set, each show is apparently different.  At a meet and greet before each show, Jon asked fans what songs folks wanted to hear.  He wrote the song titles on his hand.  If someone wanted a song already called out, he put a mark next to it, as if to add one more vote for that song.  Jon admitted that the band did not remember how to play certain songs.

A friend of mine asked the band to play “Evergreen” in Richmond, VA, but it took several days of practice before they played it live for the first time ever live in its entirety in Philadelphia.  Jon told us earlier that sometimes he looks up lyrics online for songs he hasn’t played in a while.  For “Evergreen”, I heard the band asked a friend to email a copy of the song to use for practice and re-learn the tune. 

Another friend wanted to hear “Politicians” at his 40th show in Hartford, CT.  Apparently the band wanted to play it the next night in Washington, DC, so it was already included in practice.  But they did not quite have it down the previous night in Hartford.  But “Lonely Nation” and a shout out from the band made my friends night.

“Company Car” was my request and was played in Baltimore.  (That song works great when everyone sings along!)  “Chem 6A” and “Let That Be Enough” were included in Philadelphia’s second set.  “Only Hope” was made part of the Washington, DC set with Keith Tutt playing on cello.  It seems “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” may have been a part of each show, often with Jon walking through the audience on “This is Your Life” and continuing into “Dare”, not unlike previous tours.  And some “Oh! Gravity”, “Stars”, “Gone”, “Awakening”, among others thrown in here and there.

After the Washington, DC show, a friend exclaimed, “What was the reason for the second set”?  Sure, the band could have simply played the Hello Hurricane album and stopped after “Red Eyes”.  But most of the fans appeared to enjoy the last part of the show, which changed every night, just after knowing the song order of the first part.

With several other songs written and recorded, Switchfoot is ready to release a lot of music in the coming years.  If I had to vote, I would love to see each album toured as “An Evening with Switchfoot”.  If it worked for Hello Hurricane, they would only perfect it for future releases, right?

More photos here.