By Stephen Cohen

Check out our photo gallery from the show.

The stereotype: a band, trying to shake free from the handful of songs that has defined its commercial success, eschews its hits and hides them somewhere in the middle of a set list of benign new songs and gradually phases them out of its repertoire, leaving fans angry and alienated.

San Diego’s Switchfoot turned that scenario on its head at a packed Westcott Theater Friday night, Sept. 28, delivering its most crowd-pleasing tunes with seemingly authentic exuberance and abandon.

Nashville-based Paper Route opened up the show with its brand of dreamy, synth-heavy pop rock that sounded like a mashup of Jimmy Eat World, Coldplay, and the Backstreet Boys. The radio-ready and slightly insipid “Two Hearts” highlighted the set, but Paper Route’s performance could have used a dose of variety and restraint. When every song attempts to be an indie rock power ballad, none actually packs any power.

Switchfoot, in contrast, got down to the business of playing unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll from the get go. With the dynamic, guitar-driven “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues)” and riff-heavy “Stars,” they set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Frontman Jon Foreman worked the crowd like a pro, exhibiting his 16 years of experience by delivering “Needle and Haystack Life” from the middle of the theater, surrounded by adoring fans. His easy confidence didn’t feel forced, and you got the feeling that he, his brother Tim on bass, drummer Chad Butler, guitarist Drew Shirley, and multi-instrumentalist Jerome Fontamillas genuinely enjoy playing music with each other. It’s refreshing to see that from a band that’s been doing this as long as this one has.

The band saved its strongest efforts for the end of the set, with its members delivering the last four songs with an intensity and energy that belied the fact that they’ve played them hundreds and hundreds of times. “Dare You to Move” sounded as fresh as it did in 2002, and “Dark Horses,” the single off last year’s Vice Verses and a staple on ESPN last fall, might have been the best song of the night, punctuated perfectly when lead singer Foreman invited a fan to play guitar alongside the band for the final few choruses.

“I love that, man,” said a clearly pleased Foreman.

So did we.

It has to be said that many consider Switchfoot, if not a one-hit wonder, then perhaps a two or three-hit wonder. The band can be forgiven for reworking their signature numbers in an effort to make the experience of playing shows more interesting for themselves. What Switchfoot seems to understand, though, is that the concert experience is about the fans. The band members seem to enjoy playing to a crowd, and that enthusiasm ensured that their set never seemed stale. They don’t resent their fans for clamoring for the songs that made them famous. Rather, they reward them for their loyalty.

Frankly, it’s a lesson a lot of bands could afford to learn.

The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues)
Needle and Haystack Life
The Original
The War Inside
Your Love is a Song
Dare You to Move
Mess of Me
Dark Horses
Meant to Live

Hello Hurricane
Where I Belong