After saying goodbye to Switchfoot in 2017 I really wasn’t sure what the future held; I knew they were about to take a touring break (which became the hiatus… and which turned out to be the shortest hiatus on record), and that I was beginning to think about my own future plans, including perhaps starting a family. I wasn’t counting on seeing them again; they may not have come back from their break, at least in the same way, and if they had, I may not have had the freedom to so easily go and see them if I had a child.
However, less than a year on, a new album was already on the way! And earlier this year we found out both a baby and some form of European tour were too!
When the details emerged it sounded pretty much perfect for our circumstances; they would be over here primarily to tour with Bon Jovi, so would only be playing a few headline shows. I had said after 2017, as amazing as it was, that I would not want to try racing round after them to go to all their shows and not get down-time to explore the places we visited, but would prefer to do something more like we did in 2015, seeing as many shows as we could without overdoing it, and getting time to enjoy sightseeing and spending time with each other and friends. Add in pregnancy and I doubly did not want to be doing shows night after night. Three shows in a week sounded feasible. Ordinarily I may have gone to see one of the Bon Jovi shows in addition, but I was prioritising their own shows. I would pay so much to see Switchfoot, but I was less keen if it were just to be a short opening set for a band I am not much a fan of, knowing the ticket fare would not really be going to them, that I would be in the middle of a massive crowd, not get the usual small-venue interaction, and no chance to meet them, so it wasn’t my top priority), and the dates corresponded with the end of my second trimester, about the latest that I would consider going anywhere significant and about the point at which a last child-free holiday would be really welcome.
I bought tickets!
This time round, the whole experience felt so different. I did not feel the same build up of nervous excitement – my mind was on the baby. No pre-tour anxiety dreams about missed trains or not being able to find the venue. No bag-of-coffee-beans feelings. No butterflies. No hyperventilating. Just practical concerns about where would be safest for me to stand in the venues, and how often I’d be able to find toilets. So when we finally set off for London I was feeling pretty chilled, all things considered.
London, July 8th
The train was delayed. A signal failure had us trundling in on the slow line. Finally a tiny bit of the pre-concert anxiety began to rear up, but I reminded myself just how long it was till the VIP event started, and that we had easily enough time to get there, get lunch and get to the venue.
And it was true, we did! After a bit of stress trying to find our accommodation from what turned out to be an unhelpfully incomplete address we managed to check in, then got ourselves amazing vegan pizza and had some time to relax whilst we waited for the time to head out. Everything we needed was a really short walk, which made things much more relaxed. And I had brought with me what turned out to be a very useful tool – a walking stick with a fold out seat, which I could pull out whenever I needed to take the weight off my feet.
Eventually it was time to head to the VIP event and meet the guys – but first, an important task – mission Take-Icecream-To-Switchfoot was finally on, a long-held ambition and a difficult one to achieve!! I made a short detour via a good icecream shop, armed with a rather inadequate coolbag, and purchased some salted caramel and chocolate-hazelnut icecreams, plus some ice to try keep it cold, packed it into the cool bag, and got myself to the venue.
So many Switchfam were there and waiting!! It was great seeing them, many friends I had only previously met online, others I had met at previous shows.
Amazingly, everything ran to schedule! Erick greeted us exuberantly and had us come in and get our VIP passes, and then we waited in the foyer to be called through when the band were ready. They were just through there in the same space, separated from us only by a little crowd barrier, and we could just see them if we stood up by it! Tim spotted us and waved!
After a short wait (during which time they permitted us women a bathroom break, escorted up through the venue like it was a military operation!) they allowed us in and I was straight up to the middle of the crowd barrier at the front – carefully keeping myself facing them square on, and then hiding my belly behind the barrier so they didn’t notice my shape immediately! They greeted us and then Jon suggested they play Wonderful Feeling, since he had a wonderful feeling about the night. Yes! One of my favourites! It did sound gorgeous; however, they were testing the lighting at the same time and kept shining bright spotlights and strobes right in our faces, so badly I couldn’t look up at all. After the song Jon asked for ‘questions, comments, concerns?’ and I joked I was concerned about those lights! They laughed and said it was our turn to be in the spotlight! Thankfully the lighting got a bit more bearable after that. They played Awakening (awesome!!), We’re Gonna Be Alright (another favourite that I’d been desperate to hear live, they really should have it in their sets so everyone could clap along and I said so! They played it for a Mexican fan, seeing them for the first time and very emotional at finally having this chance, it was beautiful!), and Dark Horses.
After that it was time for photos, so we headed out to line up. I took with me the icecream bag, a letter, and a poster that had on it two arrows, one pointing up saying ‘your biggest fan’ and one down saying ‘your smallest fan’, which I held in front of me so the down arrow pointed to my bump. As I got closer to the front, Drew, who was nearest the queue, looked my way to see who was next in line. I was holding the poster already and he saw it, and this funny sequence of expressions passed over his face – first recognising me, then trying to read the poster, then confusion, then looking hard at the poster, then at me, then at the poster, then at my belly… then back at me and the poster and this priceless, grinning ‘WOW!’ reaction! That was brilliant! Then it was actually my turn, so I got to repeat that with the others. I was greeted with more excitement, congratulations and ‘well something’s changed!’ 😀
I gave them the icecream and Chad and Tim opened it 😀 I so hope it didn’t melt!!! Then I got a moment more with Jon and Romey whilst the others welcomed the next fans in, and Romey asked when the baby was due before I had to go. Fun!
I had time for a quick rest back at the hotel before heading out with M and friends for a burger from Camden Market before getting in line for the show. On my way back to the venue I suddenly found myself right behind Drew, also returning from the market! He was directly in front of me, but since I saw he was with family I hung back and just let him be rather than saying hi.
The show was ok for me; they were crazy good, but it was a bit intense being so pregnant! I couldn’t get to the good spot on the balcony I’d wanted as that was cordoned off for ‘real’ VIPs, so I ended up front row again! Although M was there, he took a spot further back to be with his friends, but one of my friends looked after me and helped me get to the bathroom between acts, and I could lean on the crowd barrier. I felt pretty good and was able to rock out so long as I didn’t go too crazy, but I had half a mind on the baby the whole way through so was a bit distracted from the show. Nevertheless it was awesome and very emotional 🙂
They stuck to the setlist, including playing an absolute killer of a Led Zep cover (wow Jon, you can yell!!), and Jon came up onto the crowd barrier right where I was several times! The scariest moment was when he crowdsurfed, and came back right over me. I tried to move aside but he came back to exactly where I was stood, and I ended up helping him back onto the barrier! Now, Jon I could cope with. Less so the burly security guy who followed him, and was not so graceful getting back over the barrier! I had to really back away to avoid getting kicked! But all was well; I managed to hold my space through the whole show and those directly around me were understanding enough to avoid pushing me. Jon took my flag up on stage for Where I Belong, throwing it back to me afterwards. Overall it was a beautiful, intense and surreal experience, and I just hope it wasn’t too much for baby!
I took my time leaving the venue this time, saying hi to more Switchfam friends and taking advantage of bathroom access, before heading out onto the street to await any aftershow announcements.
After a while of sitting on my folding stool, wrapped in a damp Where I Belong flag, refreshing Twitter, I got munchy, so M ran and bought me some chips… and of course that is when The Tweet arrived! Waiting on the food and then eating whilst walking, I ended up at the back of the crowd behind the venue. The driveway in was on a slope so in the end I set the stool up on the pavement just outside to wait. It began to feel rather like the previous London aftershow as the crowd was hyped and every time there was movement inside or a door opened there were squeals and laughter, and kit and vehicles had to keep coming through the crowd. Weirdly when the door finally opened again and it actually was Jon though I almost didn’t notice, as instead of a roar from the crowd he was greeted by a throng of people all desperate to talk to him.
He pushed through and stood opposite the venue, against a painted wall that at the time seemed to just have random colour splashes on it, but afterwards turned out to have been a mural of a night time city scene. From the back of the crowd I couldn’t catch most of what he said, but he did say he’d been in the shower in the venue and had heard the crowd outside singing as they waited for him, so he had to hurry up and get out without cutting himself shaving hastily!
He played us Caroline, Thrive, Twenty Four, and then as he wasn’t hearing my request for Let Your Love Be Strong, another person in the crowd helped me out by yelling it to him ‘for the pregnant lady!’. Might he actually play it..? He looked over the crowd to where we were and dedicated the song to ‘the three of us’… but then played Your Love Is Strong instead! Ah well! I love that one too.
The baby loved the aftershow I think; having been subdued during the concert, which was probably a bit loud and confusing for it, it danced all the way through Jon’s set. It clearly takes after its mum!
Afterwards I let him go; he was too far into the crowd and going the opposite way from me back to the venue, and was being pressed on all sides by fans wanting a moment with him, so M and I headed back to get some sleep. A surreal and precious evening.
Cologne, July 9th
Cologne was the very next day.
I’d had a choice when booking our trains out to either go for a 9am or 11am train. Now ordinarily I would have been on that 9am, getting us there in time for VIP. But the 11am gave us more time to rest and eat and take our time getting to the hostel and venue for the evening’s concert. Even that morning I was still keeping an open mind about whether to go or not, depending if I felt up to it. So we did that; no VIP this time, baby first. We picked up some fresh orange juice and sandwiches from the market and were on our way to the train, a short and pleasant walk from the hotel.
The Eurostar is fast and we were in Cologne by mid afternoon. Since we were not going to get much other sightseeing time there we walked to the hostel from the train. It was about a 45 minute walk, which is about as long as I can go at the moment without needing a bathroom stop, though baby wasn’t playing ball this time, forcing a sneaky pit stop at McDonalds for facilities! That apart, it was a nice walk and we saw some parts of the city we’d not seen before, including an imposing medieval gate house.
But after all the travel I was already pretty tired. Both of us pretty much crashed out on arriving at the hostel and it took a lot of effort to drag ourselves out again.
We picked up falafels and ate them in the queue for the show. It became apparent that this was a much smaller show than the previous night, and we were the only non German speakers there, which was awkward. My German may have improved a little since 2015, but I still can’t produce much of it or understand more than the basics of what is said to me, whilst M has never learnt 😦 The venue itself was very unusual; it was a literal church, in use as a music venue but still with all its fittings, even down to (moveable) pews, Bible verses on the walls and hymn number boards! Thankfully, pews had been cleared from the floor for the show however.
My feet were aching even before the band started, and I wasn’t allowed the folding stool in the venue, so I sat on the floor a bit before they came on, but I was still achey. I was second row, right in the middle, and there really wasn’t anything but the floor to support me there. It was going to be a physically tougher experience than the previous night.
If the venue wasn’t already a little weird, the show started weirdly too; Jon came out on his own to welcome us there! Then he brought on Erick (their photographer, who has a band of his own) to play us some songs as they had no official opener, which was nice, before beginning the show for real.
The intended setlist was pretty much identical to London’s, and sadly they clearly were not ready with the deep cuts they have promised for the fall tour, sticking with the same big hits. However, no two Switchfoot shows are ever the same, and I had never seen anything like this one!
To start with, the atmosphere was quite mellow. They opened with Take My Fire, then went into We Are One Tonight (not the last night of the tour this time, but it’s always special), then Love Alone, for which Jon actually stayed on stage rather than venturing into the crowd. In keeping with the laid back vibe they then played Live It Well and On Fire, then gave us Voices. Still the crowd seemed fairly passively engaged.
Then suddenly, about a third of the way through the set as they started to play Stars, it was as if a spark landed on fuel somewhere and the crowd just exploded; there was moshing and crowd surfing and people on shoulders and everything!! I’ve rarely seen that happen at all at Switchfoot’s shows before, certainly not to quite that extent, and the change in energy in the room was stunning! Feeling in danger of being pushed, I got out of the crowd at that point and went and perched on one of the benches at the side instead. Finally I could take the weight off my poor aching feet! I still had a good view from there, and I stood/danced on the bench from time to time.
Now the crowd was on fire they played us The Sound and Meant To Live, rocking out hard, with me dancing on the pews at the edge. Then they all headed into the middle of the crowd, intending to play All I Need. The crowd began singing Hello Hurricane, so they played that first, and then something else extraordinary happened; that entire crazy crowd just sat down around them! It was a true campfire moment!
Getting back up on stage they brought the energy back up once again, playing House Burns and Float (cue more pew dancing!), and again the crowd went wild. After that, Jon began to introduce Only Hope, but clearly changed his mind part way through introducing the song and decided to introduce I Won’t Let You Go instead. M, who had been rocking out at the front, came over and sat with me for that song; it was a really sweet moment, feeling we sang it as a family.
Native Tongue and Where I Belong finished off the main set, Jon beckoning for my flag once more and throwing it back to me at the end. Then the evening ended with an encore of Dark Horses and Dare, for which Jon went back into the crowd to play, again triggering the crowd to sit down! It really was the most extraordinary show though, I’ve not seen anything like it, neither such a departure from the planned set nor such an unusual and fun crowd!
Afterwards Jon walked us all away to this park way out from the venue for an aftershow, since the venue was in a residential area and had a strict curfew. It was a fairly scrappy piece of land, and it was very dark (so cue lots of comments about how beautiful it was!), but there were crickets singing and grass to set up on. Unlike the previous night, I got right to the front and set up the stool, which I’d retrieved from security, so I could sit down and still be able to see him play. Which was all good, until everyone else once again sat down!! So there I was, sat high on the Awkward Stool, right at the front with Jon, as if I was on stage! Embrace the awkward, as Jon says..! 😀
It was lovely though. He played us June & Johnny, Twenty Four (another fan asked for the story behind the song, which he told, and since I was up front I managed to tell him how amazed I was that as a young guy he had had the depth and wisdom to turn such a small incident into such a powerful and timeless song and to thank him for it, and he really gave me his attention), Inheritance and Only Hope. I sang along, trying to ignore how self-conscious I felt; after all, everyone knew I was sat up there for good reason! It was amazing just to be there and immerse in the music with him.
When the aftershow ended we had no idea where we were, so just followed him back to the venue from where we could get our bearings, and whilst I did no more than to thank him for the night and wish him all the best for the Bon Jovi shows, I got to listen as he talked philosophy and books with some other fans as they walked.
We returned to our hostel exhausted but happy.
Then we had a few days in Germany with friends, one of my favourite places I’ve been, near the Black Forest. We explored the beautiful town where they live, did some gentle walks from the trains up in the forest, rowed a boat on a mountain lake, and ate a lot of good icecream too.
Amsterdam, July 15th
Finally it was time for my last show in Amsterdam, M having had to head back home the day before to attend a conference. I stayed at a friend’s flat, this time also with tour buddy Jude, who had had to miss the previous shows due to a pre-booked holiday.
Now I’d seen Switchfoot twice before in London and once before in Cologne, but this year’s venues were new to me. However, they were playing at the Melkweg in Amsterdam again, the same venue they’d opened the 2017 spring tour at, so I was actually familiar with it.
The morning of the show Jude and I chilled out with our friend’s beautiful cats before heading into the city for lunch and the VIP event. I went back to the cafe I’d been to for lunch two years before for falafels and fried aubergines (though this time the aubergines did not accompany me to the concert!), and whilst in there we spotted Chad walking past on the other side of the street, just as we’d been speculating over whether or not we’d see any of the guys out and about! He actually looked our way but didn’t spot us!
The VIP event time had initially been shifted back, so having thought we had plenty of time we were taken aback when it was then shifted forward again at the last minute and we ended up in a rush to get there. But we made it, and so did almost everyone else! When we went in the guys took requests from the start. A Russian fan was there, again seeing them for the first time and really stoked, and he basically gave them his life story and a whole heap of requests. It was quite funny, especially when Jon asked Tim how many he reckoned he knew the words to and Tim responded ‘It’s a round number…’! I held up my Love Is The Movement raincoat in a last attempt to get that request in, but Jon said ‘I like your jacket’ and carried on taking requests! Tim laughed and said ‘He’s not ignoring you Helen, it’s just I don’t think we’ve ever played that one!’ But they played us Daisy and Needle and sounded fantastic.
Then it was time for meet and greet, so they led us through, to the locker area this time! I tried to go last as I had a few things I wanted to say, knowing it was my last show for the foreseeable future, but Jude lost a bag just as she was about to go up and ended up taking the last spot. It was my 24th Switchfoot show, which felt significant, so I’d made a sign for the photo. As soon as Jon saw it he wrote 24 on his hand, so I quickly asked him did he read my letter I’d given them in London telling them how important Let It Happen has been for me, and if they were taking requests, could they play me that one please? I didn’t see him add that to his hand at the time, but later at the aftershow I saw it had been added. I asked them how the Bon Jovi shows had been going and was met with a general chorus of stoked noises! I didn’t catch a word any of them said, I’ll take it that was a good sign! I told them they looked like they totally owned those big stages from what I’d seen. We also chatted about how extraordinary the Cologne show had been. Then I told them the baby is my next adventure, so this show feels a little bittersweet as it will be a while before I can do this again. Jon said ‘It’s all sweet, no bitter’. But I shall miss them! Finally I asked Jon to draw me something for my new notebook, and he drew me a little guitar, I thanked him and all of them, and had to go.
After more falafels(!) it was time for the show. The stage in the Melkweg is very high instead of having a crowd barrier, so I really wasn’t keen on being at the front this time; it was a little uncomfortable the first time and definitely would be with baby on board, so I headed straight up to the balcony and this time got my chosen spot, a little corner by the lighting deck, at the back but right in the middle, with a great view and space to set up the stool to sit on without being in anyone’s way. As a useful bonus – the ladies’ was on the same level! 😀
This was going to be a very different experience from a new perspective.
LionLion opened for them again, as in London (and one of the 2017 shows). They are a great opener, and though they’d had to swap lead vocals as the singer was sick and their order of set was not quite so strong as the order they’d played their songs in at London, I still really enjoyed their performance.
As I was up by the lighting deck I could see a copy of the setlist as one was placed there. They switched it around a lot, though the end result was only one song different to the plan, just played in a different order.
Well. I don’t know if they read my letter the week before or not, but they did indeed play me Let It Happen! I’d told them I’d be a wreck if they did so please could they put it later in their set so I could work up to it, but they opened with it as they do! So of course, I was a wreck right from the off, yelling the lyrics at the top of my lungs and crying my eyes out! Quite a way to start!
A theme of the evening became ‘embrace the awkward’, a phrase Jon pulled out several times. He said he loves live music as you never know what’s going to happen, people could throw stuff at you… at which point Tim pulled out a pick and threw it at him! And so it went on!
There were many ‘beautiful and awkward’ moments. During Live It Well, when Jon introduced Romey as being cancer free to emotional applause, Jude, who was up front, pulled out her ‘Another year with Romey’ fundraiser t-shirt, and Jon took it up on stage. He got in the crowd as usual for Love Alone and Float, and did some balcony rail climbing, though he didn’t get as far as where I was stood. A guy in the crowd asked him if he could sing Hope Is The Anthem with him, and Jon broke from singing Float for a brief interlude of that to sing with him, even though he’d had it on the setlist to combine it with Where I Belong at the end. The guys all went into the crowd to play Hello Hurricane and All I Need acoustic, and when they started to head back to the stage, Tim was hoisted up by the crowd and crowdsurfed his way back – I don’t know if he asked or not but it was funny, especially watching Jon watching him! And of course, Jon had us all arms round shoulders with the ‘perfect strangers’ next to us.
I got a recording of their performance of Voices this time, I love how they do it live, especially Jon’s yell at the end. And he gave me a little shoutout for Twenty Four, saying he’d met someone who was at their 24th show so it felt right that they play it. It was beautiful! I got my 24th show sign out and held it up on the balcony rail and just soaked in it. I also held out the Where I Belong banner across the rail, and my old ‘Thank you Jon, you inspire me’ banner at the end. I don’t know if they saw them, I didn’t see Jon look my way, but it was there if he did.
Somehow Jon was just extra captivating that evening. I was better rested than in Cologne and had plenty of space up on the balcony and a great view, so it was really relaxed and I could just rock out and not worry. I was utterly mesmerised by their performance. It was pure wide eyed wonder!
There were a lot of tears too, probably partly the baby hormones but it all meant a lot to me. I was so up for more when it ended and wished they could have given us a proper encore. I left the venue still with tears streaming down my face from Dare You To Move.
After the show we waited about outside. The crowd was big so it took me a while to find anyone I knew! Even still, many people only waited a short time to see if there would be an aftershow, so the crowd had thinned by the time we got The Tweet. We all headed up the street back to the same bridge he had sung on two years previously. It was a bit of a wait and some of the fans began singing Amazing Grace, and we all joined in! Then a funny moment – a guy rocked up on a bike (naturally. Amsterdam.) wearing a comedy hat and carrying a halloween mask and rubber duckie on his back, and he stopped and chatted to the crowd for a while! No idea what that was about but it was entertaining!
Eventually Jon showed up and this time stopped short of the actual bridge (presumably as he didn’t want the crowd to block it). I ended up standing in the middle of the crowd this time. Erick came out with Jon again and livestreamed Jon from behind, looking at us all. Jon played Only Hope, Joy Invincible/We’re Gonna Be Alright, and Your Love Is A Song. It was so good, but I began to get uncomfortable standing in a small space and having to crane my neck to see, so I cheekily asked the guys in front of me if I could squeeze through to the front to put my stool out so I could sit, and they let me. No-one else was sitting down this time so all was well. Jon continued on, saying he wanted to stay right there and not have to leave, playing Inheritance, June & Johnny and Your Love Is Strong. But at some point my stool wobbled, and in trying to stabilise it I fell off, right in front of Jon and the internet! He was most concerned and kept asking if I was ok, but I was completely fine! Funny, and beautiful, and all the awkward! That little stool has caused some ‘moments’!
Afterwards I just managed to touch his arm and say thank you, and he asked again if I was ok and I reassured him I was. We were going to leave and head back to my friend’s flat but Jude wanted to go over to the bus to see the others so eventually we followed.
Jon came out again, clearly not ready to leave, and chatted some more to us and a few others who were waiting there, including chatting a little in Spanish with some Salvadorean fans. He said he’d been writing some more on this tour! Still under some kind of spell from that magical performance, my usual ‘hands off’ rule had gone entirely out the window and I gave him a little hug and told him I’d made a commitment on first seeing him live that I’d go to every show of his that I could from then on, and that I hoped to bring the baby along in person some day. Finally he headed back to the bus. The last one of them we saw was Chad. In a bizarre moment of deja vu we saw him inside the venue trying to get out and finding all the doors shut, an exact repeat of what had happened the previous time! He appeared a moment later from the other side of the venue and he congratulated me a last time and we said final goodbyes before leaving.
And that was that, a final(?) tour in the books! I headed home, my fan mania running so high. Tomorrow knows what tomorrow knows. 🙂