Review: Switchfoot earn a honking ovation at Petco Park drive-in concert, a California first
The Grammy Award-winning San Diego band drew a sold-out audience to its uplifting concert, which was hosted by the San Diego Padres
“I’m not going to lie to you: This is the best-looking bunch of cars I’ve ever played to in my whole life!” said Switchfoot singer and front man Jon Foreman, who quipped a moment later: “Put your windshield wipers on!”
His playful request came just before his band concluded its rousing Sunday night “Feed the Need” drive-in concert at Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. The Grammy Award-winning quintet’s performance was the first evening public rock concert in the city — and, very likely, California — since the coronavirus pandemic surged in mid-March and concerts as we know them ended, at least for now.
Accordingly, the loudest responses from the audience came in the form of honking car horns. Such tooting displays of approval could soon become more common, if not the new normal, as the summer progresses with no sign of concert venues, amphitheaters or live-music clubs re-opening any time soon.
“Normally, I’d be able to jump out in the crowd and give every one of you a high-five,” Foreman told the crowd. “But this is a gift to play here for you.”
For Switchfoot and the sold-out audience of 250 cars (and their passengers), it was a welcome opportunity to embrace the uplifting force of music — if not in the flesh, then at least on the asphalt of Petco Park’s Lexus Premier Lot.
The suitably celebratory concert sounded terrific, as Switchfoot delivered its eight-song, 51-minute set with a winning combination of spunky power and well-honed nuance. The results felt liberating, both in the parking lot and for the ticket-less fans on the stairs of the nearby pedestrian bridge that traverses Harbor Drive.
“I’m so grateful to be alive, playing rock ‘n’ roll in my hometown,” Foreman said, prior to “Love Alone is Worth the Fight,” Switchfoot’s second song. (The full set list appears below.)
For the record, this was not the first time Switchfoot had performed in the shadow of Petco Park. The band played on a nearby outdoor stage at the 2003 edition of the now-defunct San Diego Street Scene, which took place while the stadium — which opened in 2004 was — still under construction. In 2011, Switchfoot’s seventh album, “Hello Hurricane,” earned the band its first Grammy Award when it won Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album honors.
With or without the cars Sunday night, the setting was quintessential San Diego. The stage faced west toward the nearby bay, with Petco Park and the downtown skyline providing a memorable backdrop. A large blue-and-white banner hanging from the stadium’s outer perimeter read: WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.
For safety’s sake, some modifications were required. There was no onsite food or drink service and alcohol was prohibited. Attendees were asked to remain in their cars or in the beds of their trucks, although some sat on the hoods of their vehicles. There was an empty row of parking between each occupied row. Face masks were required for anyone who stepped out of their vehicle, although some seemed to regard wearing them as optional.
The concert ran so smoothly it seemed as if the Padres — who hosted the show and donated the venue — are seasoned veterans in presenting parking lot events. In a manner, they are.
On Saturday, the same parking lot at Petco Park was the site of three car-bound high-school graduation ceremonies and two screenings of the movie “Anchorman.” On Sunday at noon, three San Diego bands — B-Side Players, SM Familia and Los Sleepwalkers — played prior to Switchfoot’s evening performance.
Both concerts were presented by Local Media San Diego, the parent company of radio stations 91X and Z90. Both concerts sold out, raising an estimated $40,000 for the nonprofit Feeding San Diego. The evening show featured a pleasant opening set by a truncated lineup of Hirie. The San Diego reggae band was added after Noah Cyrus dropped off the bill, shortly before the concert’s May 29 announcement.
Switchfoot was performing live for the first time since January. Many other groups might have sounded rusty or uneven after such a long break, especially since California’s social-distancing protocols made rehearsals all but impossible.
Happily, Foreman and his four band mates — bassist/singer Tim Foreman (Jon’s brother), drummer Chad Butler, lead guitarist Drew Shirley and guitarist/keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas — didn’t miss a beat.
From the high-octane start of their opening number, the galvanizing “Hello Hurricane,” to the hard-rocking fury of their second encore, the crunchy, Led Zeppelin-ish “Where I Belong,” the 24-year-old Switchfoot delivered its eight-song set with polish, precision and infectious verve.
The spiritual messages that infuse many of the group’s songs seemed more timely than ever. When Foreman held up two banners near the conclusion of the concert — one read Love, Love is the movement — it was perfectly in character.
The band was joined by cellist Keith Tutt for its third and fourth songs, the redemption-fueled “Dare You to Move” and the slow-building “I Won’t Let You Go,” a ballad of affirmation that evoked U2 at its most inspirational.
After “Dare,” Foreman addressed the nationwide protests against racial inequality and police brutality that have galvanized the nation over the past two weeks.
“We’re in this together,” the charismatic singer said. “We have to acknowledge the nation we live in, where we’ve lost George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. We’re in this together. We rise and fall together. We are one nation.”
Switchfoot drive-in concert set list
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.