Jack Johnson Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 18, 2010
Check out a slideshow from last night's concert.
The dirty secret about Jack Johnson is that he may be the closest thing this generation has to the iconic singer-songwriters our parents grew up with in the late '60s to the early '70s - the mustachioed or baby-faced troubadours on those dusty album covers in the garage, water and heat-damaged, the discs worn from limitless spins.
The truth is that Johnson has been relegated to the sandal-rock bin due to his own Hawaiian heritage and, well, the dude actually surfs with Eddie Vedder. So he gets his just desserts, but only from folks who aren't turned off by his looks or image, which cancels out a good portion of the editors of Spin, Pitchfork or your local scene message board.
For Aftermath, Johnson has always been like an aural Xanax, a slickly produced tall glass of milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwich, if you will. If he made a Christmas album, he would be this generation's Bing Crosby and James Taylor rolled into one. To tell you the truth, we see more Paul Simon, Cat Stevens or Jackson Browne in him than we would ever see in modern pin-ups like John Mayer or flukes like Jason Mraz.
So driving through 30 minutes of rain wasn't so bad to hear a guy who reminds us of the guy who sang "Fire and Rain," we presume. It appeared to us to be a packed house at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Wednesday night, most likely close to a sell-out, with the lawn overrun with smiling white teeth.
Johnson opened with the loping "You and Your Heart" from this summer's new To the Sea LP. This album is arguably his most fully fleshed out in terms of continuous listening, instrumental adventurousness and deliberate pacing. Five records since 2001's Brushfire Fairytales, Johnson seems to have finally made a cohesive album, not a collection of songs with scattered shards of brilliantly shining beach-pop. In a live setting, his new stuff pops.
The band and Johnson didn't waste time dallying, and goosed the crowd with a set of songs that will be paying his great-grandkids' yacht-fuel surcharges in 2067. "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" and "Upside Down" brought the white-folk dance.
You know that vacant, arrhythmic sway where you may have one hand in your pocket or on your phone, something close to what you do when you have to pee really badly? That thing. There was also a lot of spooning while standing up going on. Aftermath was somehow seated behind the most physically mismatched gay couple at the Pavilion and the most physically entranced straight couple in the ZIP code.
The title track from To the Sea came off like a slo-mo Billy Preston song. It was the double shot of "Bubble Toes" and "Breakdown" that sent everyone over around halfway through the set, though. Give the Sea tracks a few more rounds of touring to get entrenched in the brains of the populace.
Fellow Hawaiian Paula Fuga was a mainstay for the last half of the show, filling in on ukulele and backing vocals for "Flake" and her own song "Country Road." She brought a bit of their island home to the mainland and she fit in seamlessly with the band.
We could have done without the cover of Steve Miller's "The Joker," because in that crowd, let's be honest, singing "smoker" and "toker" was too easy of a move to pull off to earn brownie points. Hell, man, cover "Fly like an Eagle" and let your keyboardist do zoomy stuff while you noodle on the guitar. Even "Abracadabra" would suffice if you just have to pay homage to Miller for some strange reason.
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Personal Bias: Strangely enough, Aftermath is a sucker for singer-songwriters like Johnson, but we don't advertise it. Would that be a non-guilty pleasure?
The Crowd: Groups of pretty white girls roaming two by two, built jocks looking for love in all the wrong places, plenty of pink polos and khaki shorts, and surprisingly a lot of tattoos on everyone.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Can we play this one at our wedding?"
Random Notebook Dump: Really like the song "Flake" and won't apologize. It's evocative or some shit. I mean...SLAYER RULES.