Orange County, California: home to 40 miles of beaches, world-class surfing, and glimmering sunshine. What could be a better location for a Summer Salt concert?
2012 saw Matthew Terry (vocalist/guitarist) and Eugene Chung’s (drummer) introduction into the Austin, TX music scene, developing a sound reminiscent of bossa nova, 60s rocksteady, and surf psychedelia. Two years later, Summer Salt’s debut album, Driving to Hawaii, garnered huge success, with hits such as “Sweet to Me” propelling the band toward a nationwide platform. In the past decade, Summer Salt has released four full-length albums, each highlighting their evolution as a band displaying numerous sonic improvements, while still keeping their classic surf-rock sound.
Tonight in Santa Ana marks night three of the West Coast leg of their United States Campanita tour. Campanita, the fourth full length album from the band, illustrates the group’s advancements over the last decade, signaling a transition toward a more robust and textured sound.
I approached the venue promptly at 7:00 pm, in the light of the setting sun and engulfed in a crowd of people donning shell necklaces and fresh suntans. From the looks of the beach-ready crowd, Summer Salt’s easygoing surf-rock had reached its target audience.
Opening the night was Addison Grace, an indie-pop singer songwriter with singles such as “Sugar Rush” and “I Wanna Be a Boy.” I was pleasantly surprised by his impassioned cover of Billie Eilish’s “Happier than Ever,” which highlighted his vocal range layered over gentle ukulele strings. During the final song, he made the wise decision of switching out the melodic ukulele for an explosive electric guitar, setting the tone for the following two groups.
Next on the lineup was The Rare Occasions, a three piece indie rock band formed in Boston during 2012. The band played “Notion,” an upbeat rock song that has recently gone viral. For only a three piece band, The Rare Occasions delivered a very full sound, largely led by drummer Luke Imbusch. Bassist Jeremy Cohen kept the energy up, dancing with the rhythm while not missing a single note. With each member at times contributing to the vocal harmonies, their overall sound felt perfectly whole.
As it became time for Summer Salt to perform, I couldn’t help but notice the shift of visual scenery; a geometric floral backdrop set the stage, accompanied by new amps with matching floral designs, facilitating an extravaganza of nostalgic 70s pop art. Drenched in purple and orange lights, reminiscent of sunset, Summer Salt took the stage. Opening with a two measure snare intro, Chung launched the band into “Tortilla Soup,” the second track of Campanita. As he sang “The heat of the summer, The company of friends,” Terry’s vocals echoed within the intimate walls of The Observatory; lyrics that perfectly summarized this night.
Summer Salt followed with “Candy Wrappers” off of 2017’s So Polite, an upbeat song symbolizing the bittersweetness of a failed relationship. As the night progressed, the band’s chemistry became undoubtedly apparent. The Observatory stage allowed the members to interact with each other, and their cheerful energy was contagious. Frontman Terry continuously charmed the crowd, all while donning a shirt reading “Island Sunrise Hawaii,” a phrase that aligns flawlessly with the band’s persona.
The remaining setlist for the night included several songs off Campanita, with other more popular songs also incorporated into the mix. This array of selections showcased their polished surf-rock sound, a carefully constructed soundscape reminiscent of lounging on a tropical beach.
About halfway through the night, the band played “One Last Time,” with Terry joking that he felt it was the incorrect season to perform this song. A tune inspired by the devastation of Valentine’s Day, it wasn’t entirely fitting for the sunny afternoons of July. Yet, I felt the band’s signature sound was perfectly encapsulated within this song, with 60s inspired harmonies serenading the words “Alone, alone again on Valentines,” layered over smooth guitar riffs.
A paradisiac end to a dreamy night, Summer Salt closed the set with the fan favorite, “Driving to Hawaii.” As Terry floated into the song, the crowd warmly sang along, “Driving to Hawaii, Surfing down the street,” before the members exited the stage. However, the crowd did not hesitate to chant the phrase “Cj7,” hoping for an encore.
Moments later, the band reappeared much to the crowd’s delight, and concluded the night’s set with “Revvin My Cj7,” and “Campanita,” a lovely ode dedicated to Terry’s sister, Madeline. A song built upon love, closeness, and family, Summer Salt left us with the words,“I’ll be singing on and long live Campanita.”
After witnessing Summer Salt’s capabilities in person, I have already found myself eagerly awaiting a new record, excited to see what the future has in store. Specifically I’m curious as to whether the group’s sound will evolve throughout future releases, or rather it will stay consistent with the laid back, daydreaming tones that characterize the majority of the band’s productions today. While Campanita did not fundamentally redefine their sound, this album and performance showcased prolific potential to expand upon new textures and distinctions, while still upholding their undeniably pleasant melodies.
Listen to Summer Salt’s Campanita here: