The Appetite For Construction Tour is not the first pairing of popular rock acts Switchfoot and Relient K. Back in 2001, as the Supertones took their dance party across the USA on their Loud and Clear Tour, they brought along both bands as their opening acts. Now, six years later, Switchfoot and Relient K are co-headlining their own tour, and what an experience it is.
The intriguingly titled Appetite For Construction Tour references the bands' support of Habitat For Humanity and the building of homes for those who are in need of shelter. A dollar from each ticket every night went to the organization, and the headlining acts even wrote a song to perform on the tour in support of it ("Rebuild" is available for download from Switchfoot.com when you donate to Habitat). It's exciting to see words put into action by bands like Switchfoot and Relient K, as they join the likes of artists from Jars Of Clay to Audio Adrenaline and Steven Curtis Chapman, who have all started their own ministries to combat poverty and destitution.
On November 16th, 2007, fans piled into Lehigh University's Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (also the home of Jesusfreakhideout.com), to experience the tour firsthand. The show began rather early at 6:00pm (especially for a Friday night), kicking the night off with newcomers Ruth, one of the latest Tooth & Nail Records signings. The long-haired, flannel-wearing Battle Ground, Washington foursome played cuts from their debut, Secondhand Dreaming, including "You Are," "Here To New York," "Cross The Line," and "Mr. Turner." Ironically, some of Ruth's stylings harken back to the early days of Switchfoot, with lead singer Dustin Ruth's vocals bearing similar qualities to Jon Foreman's. Musically, the band was a nice fit for the lineup, and it was great to hear a blatantly spiritual act open the night.
A short intermission followed and the Relient K emerged. Frontman Matt Thiessen had been under the weather, even admitting to the audience that they almost cancelled the show the night before because of it, but he pressed on regardless. Even for a singer who's struggling with feeling sick, Thiessen put on a strong vocal performance with very little evidence of him even really having any ailments. The band opened with "I So Hate Consequences," tearing forward with "Devastation and Reform" and, surprisingly, fan favorite "Be My Escape." At this point, Thiessen brought up the band's appreciation for most everything that was the 80's, and launched into a cover of Tears For Fears' "Head Over Heels," with the guys soaking in a retro-esque stage lighting, before seamlessly drifting into their original, "In Love With The 80's." The song also held a bit more poignancy than usual as Thiessen was once again sporting a mustache for this tour, a gag that the vocalist had pulled at least once before. "Must Have Done Something Right" followed, with "Which To Bury, Us Or The Hatchet?" close behind. "I Need You" preceded a brief word from Thiessen about Habitat For Humanity, which the band complimented nicely by following with "Give." Radio hit "Forgiven" preceded one of the highlights of the night as former Supertone Ethan Luck dragged a blow-up Christmas lawn ornament onto the stage and inflated it. After Thiessen mentioned the recent release of their full-length Christmas album, Let It Snow, Baby... Let It Reindeer, large air jets suspended above the audience began shooting out white paper flakes onto the crowd below to simulate snow as Thiessen welcomed everyone to their snow globe and began playing "Sleigh Ride." It was a fantastic treat for those in the standing room on the floor, and a fun set moment. At the song's conclusion, the Christmas decoration was yanked from the stage and Thiessen asked the crowd if anyone watched the TV show, The Office. Following a great deal of applause, Matt joked that due to the writer's strike they were able to have one of The Office actors on the road with them and, with that, welcomed "Jim Halpert" to the stage. He admitted it was merely their merch guy in uniform and the band performed a little original tribute song to the popular TV sitcom, before following it with their own cover of the TV's instrumental theme song. During both songs, the band's merch guy performed the melodica along with the Relient boys. Thiessen cleverly added, "And if you don't really watch or care about the show... We just wasted a minute and thirty seconds of your life" to the tune of the equally frivolous "Crayons Can Melt On Us For All I Care" from their latest release. With that, the rock quintet barrelled on into the home stretch of their set with "High Of 75," "Sadie Hawkins Dance," and finally, "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been." During "Sadie Hawkins," Relient K continued their recent tradition of offering a fan the opportunity to join them on stage to perform the guitar part of the song with them, and this time even brought a couple additional fans up to help with percussion.
A longer intermission separated the RK and Switchfoot sets. Although some co-headlining gigs I've seen before have allowed for both acts to do encores, I was surprised Relient K didn't do one. Still, the band played just as many songs as SF would with their encore included, so nothing was really lost. When the lights went out again for the main act, a giant display of the band's San Diego logo illuminated on the backdrop behind the band, and Switchfoot walked out, beginning the opening riffs to "Meant To Live" before quickly shifting into "Oh! Gravity." It was a bit of a tease for the fans, but a great intro, and the set was off to a strong start as it moved right into the catchy sounds of "Stars." Frontman Jon Foreman was dressed in a black hoodie and a black hat, with his fellow bandmates lit on stage from underneath them, causing a unique look and feel. With the close of "Stars," drummer Chad Butler stepped out from behind his set and stood at the edge of the stage, held up an electronic drum pad and began beating out the drum loop from "This Is Your Life." Butler continued this until the close of the song, where Foreman would do his signature singing into his electric. The band followed it with a brief nod to Beyonce's "Crazy Love," using it as an intro to the hopelessly catchy "Gone," and followed with "American Dream." Mid-song of the latter, the fivesome froze in place, holding their action poses for quite well over a minute as the audience continued to roar louder and louder until the guys broke out of it and finished the song. Switchfoot hardly just played any of their songs as-is from the album recording. For "Dirty Second Hands," Jon grabbed one of Chad's cymbal stands and spun around stage as he beat it with a drum stick as they extended the song live. The anthem for unity, "We Are One Tonight," included an added bonus as the band broke into a chorus of "Shadow Proves The Sunshine" before returning to "We Are One" to end the song. This kind of thing happened throughout their set. The band's Habitat For Humanity song, "Rebuild" aptly succeeded, and Foreman invited Relient K's Matt Thiessen to join him on vocals, while Dustin Ruth and his band came out to aid with percussion and harmonica. The new song was an interesting sort of Dylan/Weezer southern rock mix, which was nicely followed by the balladry of "On Fire," where Foreman encouraged the audience to hold their illuminated cell phones in the air. Jon then hopped down from the stage and climbed up the bleachers into the stands to wade through the audience and sing along with them. He even took a fan's camera and photographed the floor audience before returning it to them, moving further into the audience, finishing the song, and soon jumping back down to the floor. Butler performed a bit of a drum solo as Jon returned to the stage to begin one of the standout tracks from Oh! Gravity, "Awakening." Finally, the band received their most enthusiastic reception from the crowd when they began the unmistakable guitar intro for "Meant To Live." The crowd sang along the loudest to this particular tune, and Foreman held up the mic stand as they sang the words back to him, and then placed the stand in the audience's hands. He then took it back and dropped himself into the crowd to be briefly crowd-surfed before returning to the stage to wrap up their set. The fans shouted for another song and before too long, Jon Foreman re-emerged with just an acoustic and began playing an old fan favorite, "Only Hope." Not only was it great to hear an old Switchfoot song live again, but the stripped-down acoustic feel was a nice touch for the mostly "big" presentation of their show. He then began performing "Dare You To Move" and sang a chorus of it before the rest of the band joined him to close out the evening and then all take a final bow together.
Switchfoot have come quite a distance from being a little alternative pop/rock trio from San Diego to being an arena-playing rock quintet. Not only are the guys great musicians and songwriters, but they consistently put on a great performance and this show - and tour - are no different. If you have an opportunity to catch this tour as it rolls into your town, it won't be one to miss.-- John DiBiase, 11/19/07
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