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Jack Johnson SLC concert review, part II: A man and a guitar

27 Aug

The following is part II of my review of Jack Johnson’s Salt Lake City tour stop last Monday, August 18.  Scroll down to read part I.

Jack Johnson performs at a foreign venue that I can neither spell nor pronounce. He's wearing the same t-shirt he wore at SLC, though. (photo courtesy jackjohnsonmusic.com)

The weather for Jack Johnson’s Salt Lake City concert last Monday couldn’t have been more perfect.   It was one of those evenings that remind me why I love summer so much- clear and calm, comfortably shrouded in the day’s surplus heat.  My 1-year-old daughter, Miss Ella, was enjoying making her blanket-to-blanket rounds.  The sun began to set as Rogue Wave finished up their set, and Miss Ella and I decided to make a diaper change run.  The couples around us agreed to guard our spot from the roving masses of Johnny-come-lately’s trying to squeeze into every minute gap between blankets.

Of course finding our spot again was like trying to find your car in a Disney World parking lot, only without the help of cute character-themed row markers.  The lawn by this point was one giant patchwork quilt of individual blankets occupied by a largely homogenized Pac-Sun clad crowd.  Scanning the crowd from the top of the lawn was pointless.  We had to weave through until we saw a recognizable landmark, in this case the intricate dreadlocked hairdo of the lady sitting behind us.  There was no way we were leaving the blanket again that evening.

After about 30 minutes, Jack Johnson appeared on stage to raucous applause.  The band (Jack, drummer Adam Topol, keyboardist Zach Gill, with ALO bassist Steve Adams filling in for an absent Merlo Podlewski) launched into an upbeat version of “Hope,” a song from Sleep Through the Static that is among my least favorite Johnson pieces overall, but one that actually made for a decent opener.

Without a word by way of introduction or greeting (Johnson is notoriously shy), He followed up with classics “Flake” and “Taylor.”  Since these two tracks are early works, it was great hearing them with Zach Gill’s background vocals and keyboarding flare (the animated multi-instrumentalist was added to the lineup in 2005).

Jack infused “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” with an old Cars tune and followed it with a nicely orchestrated version of “Sleep Through the Static.”

Most everybody on the lawn remained standing for the duration of the set list.  Miss Ella was happy to sit in my arms and sing and dance along to the music.  While she seemed to love every song, she recognized and jived most to the ones we play in the car often- especially “Upside Down” from the Curious George soundtrack.  Even the magic hour of 8:30 pm (her bedtime) did little to deter her participation, though her dancing after that point was punctuated with an amusing delirium.

Jack is, to be honest, a bit stiff on stage.  For me, this is part of his appeal.  The former pro-surfer first picked up the guitar out of the desire to simply write campfire songs for the beach.  In interviews, he still mentions his amazement at his shotgun journey from “man and a guitar” to stadium headliner.  Despite his superstar status, Jack enters each stage looking like a college grad coming into his first job interview.

His muted exuberance and the extreme mellow nature of his tunes sometimes tempts his audience to treat some of the performance as background music.  This routine- and I argue fully expected- aspect of the concert continues to baffle reviewing media reps attending their first Jack Johnson show.

Of course I’m one of those fans that’s fascinated with every part of the performance, from the way Adam switches between percussion sets to Zach Gill’s smooth, almost jellyfish-like playing style.  Another appeal is Jack’s polite demeanor and clean persona (curse words are nowhere to be found in either his music or his performances).  Jack has the refreshing ability to be at once family-friendly and fully mainstream.

Jack’s satisfyingly long setlist included almost every song on Sleep Through the Static and most of his staples, and was spiced with an all-accordion take on Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (cleverly titled “The Devil Went Down to Bavaria”) by Gill.

He ended the concert like he began his career- alone and accoustic- a man and a guitar in a five song encore that included introspective pieces like “Times Like These” and “Home.”  Miss Ella stayed true until the end, applauding each song by wiggling her hands and yelling “Heyyyy!”

When the stage lights went down it was time to face the infamous USANA traffic jam.  Miss Ella fell asleep on my shoulder as we walked toward the exit to meet my wife.  Another summer night, another great Jack Johnson concert.  The usually maddening bottleneck was a little lighter than usual, and Miss Ella slept contentedly as we navigated the sea of break lights under the same aloha spell that laces Jack Johnson’s music.

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