On Thursday evening, alternative rock bands Relient K and Switchfoot performed at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara as a part of the “Looking for America Tour Part II.” Energy surged through the crowd as fans of both groups moved and sung along to new songs and favorite hits alike. Both bands had plenty of these to perform, as they’ve been active since the late ’90s, and each released an album earlier this year. Switchfoot’s July 2016 album, Where the Light Shines Through, provided the tour’s name with one of its tracks, “Looking for America.” Relient K’s eighth album, Air for Free, was released later that month.
The show began with Relient K taking the stage, designed to resemble the yard of a quaint cabin in the woods, complete with a white buffalo and a strip of artificial turf. This scene was characteristic of the band, who are “quirky, super-relatable … not-typical rock stars,” as attendee Chad Jordan described. As soon as the band took the stage, they launched into the opening strums of their hit song, “High of 75.” This beginning, met with emphatic applause, preceded upbeat songs such as “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been,” “Be My Escape” and “Sadie Hawkins Dance.”
The music was interspersed with introductions and light-hearted stories from lead singer Matt Thiessen. In a particular moment of nostalgia, he mentioned that during a past tour stop, he purchased 30 shirts at a now-defunct Santa Barbara clothing store. Later in the set, Thiessen noted his band and Switchfoot’s partnership with a charity organization called CURE International, which provides surgeries for conditions such as cleft palates to children who would not ordinarily be able to receive them. Thiessen encouraged the audience to visit the organization’s booth outside, also mentioning to the audience that the first leg of the tour resulted in over 100 surgeries for children.
Relient K concluded their set with their 11-minute song, “Deathbed,” from their fifth album, Five Score and Seven Years Ago. The album version of the song features Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot, at the very end, so many fans of the groups undoubtedly hoped he would come on stage to sing his part. Sure enough, when the song neared his cue, the singer came out, embracing Thiessen as he played the piano, then advanced to the microphone to sing. It yielded a very powerful end to Relient K’s portion of the concert.
Once Relient K’s cabin background and décor was replaced by various monitors, the stage was set for Switchfoot. Each member of the group, save Jon Foreman, came to the stage, with Foreman’s silhouette depicted on a monitor. Foreman began to sing “Holy Water,” and soon made his welcome arrival on stage. The group followed this with one of its earlier hits, “Meant to Live,” shortly after which Foreman wasted no time interacting with the audience. After beginning “Bull in a China Shop,” the lead singer climbed down from the stage and into the audience, balancing on the theatre seats with support from enthusiastic attendees and went back about five rows into the audience before returning to the stage. Foreman made his way into the audience later in the concert as well, creating a very personal experience, especially for those seated near the front.
After playing a fair amount of more recent songs, especially those from their most recent album, the band played one of their earliest hits and a powerful ballad, “Only Hope.” Toward the beginning of the tune, Foreman urged the audience to turn on their cell phones’ flashlights and sway them with the music, following that up with a request for the stage lights to be shut off. The result was a theater solely illuminated by the spectacle of the tilting lights. The song itself possessed a certain impact as well; attendee and physical therapist Taisa Skovorodkl said she “totally fangirled out on ‘Only Hope,’ cause it was like memories of high school all over again.”
After several more songs, Thiessen and Relient K’s drummer, Dave Douglas, returned to the stage to contribute vocals, then left Switchfoot to give a proper end to the concert with their most popular hit, “Dare You To Move.” The song was prefaced with Foreman relating that he first sung it shortly after dropping out of college, and that no matter where you are, you don’t know what tomorrow may hold.