Concert review: Jack Johnson’s ‘chiller instinct’

By Nick Moore

Concert review: Jack Johnson’s ‘chiller instinct’

Jack Johnson has long been associated with a particular vision of California, or rather, a particular kind of Californian: The surfer bro who may or may not actually surf, who smokes weed proudly, strums the guitar on occasion, wears tank tops year-round and whose room features a minimum of one Bob Marley poster on each wall.

At the Greek Theatre Tuesday night, only a handful of fans appeared to fit this description. After all, this is Berkeley, not Santa Barbara, and the crowd was not so easy to define. There were a lot of people in flannel, but a lot of girls in heels. A lot of weed, but a lot of wine. Mostly, there were a lot of people eager to see this disarmingly earnest, goofily handsome but otherwise unremarkable man play his music.

He took the stage sans introduction and tore into the skinny guitar riff of “You and Your Heart,” a song from his new, slightly more uptempo album, To The Sea. Ever a crowd-pleaser (at one point he even took requests), he dipped frequently into his back catalogue, playing songs that even the most ardent Johnson-ignorer (even casually hating this man seems impossible) would recognize. “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” “Taylor,” “Banana Pancakes” – it seemed like everyone in the brimming Greek was singing along.

While Johnson alternated frequently between electric and acoustic guitars, the mood rarely deviated from the upbeat and mildly, sexlessly funky. To use an analogy Johnson himself might employ, it was like riding one long, smooth, endless wave. Never mind that real waves, like great concerts, soar and then crash over you.

As one fan admitted to me before Johnson came onstage, “All his songs sound kind of the same.” Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing; the girl who told me didn’t seem to think so, though she recognized that it’s supposed to be. No one at the Greek seemed to mind, especially not the many hetero couples locked in that familiar concert stance: The guy standing behind his girl, his arms wrapped around her waist in a death grip as they sway back and forth interminably.

Even for a non-fan, there’s something very seductive about Jack Johnson and the ethos of chill he has come to represent. It certainly has a broad appeal.

For a gig in what many might see as an epicenter of “elitism,” there was nothing remotely snobbish about this crowd, regardless of their day jobs. This was “real America” insofar as the population of California is bigger than most of the red Plains states combined. The motto of this California, it seems, is have a good time – and Jack Johnson is singularly equipped to provide one.

The show’s inclusive vibe was exemplified by Johnson’s practice of inviting his opening acts back to the stage for duets and little jam sessions (in this case G. Love, who, ironically, “discovered” J.J., and Zee Avi, a petite Malaysian chanteuse). His keyboard player, Zach Gill, appeared to loosen up Johnson as much he entertained the crowd – his moments of manic key mashing briefly took the attention off a frontman who still seems a little bit shy.

Johnson dedicated multiple songs to the women in his life – his baby daughter, his niece, his wife – but did so with an endearing clumsiness. Genuine or not, being Joe Surfer has gotten him pretty far. The Greek, which operates under the anachronistic policy that fans can get as close to the stage as they want, provides an excellent venue for reading an artist’s face. A glimpse of Jack Johnson’s suggested he forgot anyone was looking.

Read more here: http://www.dailycal.org/article/110651/chiller_instinct
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