An Amazing Evening With Jack Johnson
Cardiff in the cold and Jack Johnson's warm folksy California style surf rock; the two don't seem to go together but on March 1st 2006 a sell-out capacity crowd proved it did. Having unfortunately missed ALO due to pub stop off for a dessert fix we arrived in time for Matt Costa's vibrantly eclectic set.
Combining the Bob Dylan folk sound with a splash of The Beach Boys he demonstrated that he is going to be at the head of the queue for pretenders to Jack Johnson's crown. Flitting round different genre at times you could hear a hint of Beetlebum era Blur ('These Arms') followed up with some good old fashioned country ('Sweet Rose'). In such a strong market versatility is essential to keep people interested and this guy certainly has that.
At the moment of Jack Johnson's entry the feeling in the crowd was all about chilling out and just enjoying the music. There were none of the tensions you get at usual gigs, but what can you expect when the main act is wandering about the stage barefoot?! One friend commented they wouldn't be surprised to see hippies sitting around on bean bags smoking joints. The recorded sound of his voice lost nothing in the live transition and highlighting the reggae elements of his style ensured that bums didn't stay seated for very long. Pianist Zach Laurie added so much with his energetic and frankly mind-boggling piano playing skills that without him the set would have lost much of its sparkle.
The songs off 'In-Between Dreams' were the obvious favourites, though there was a surprisingly strong recognition for tracks off earlier albums 'Brushfire Fairytales' and 'Times Like These'. The surprising addition of a cover of 'Whole Lotta Love' was an extraordinary moment and any rock purist would have forgiven him for it. As he starting singing the only words that came to mind were "holy" and "crap". He made it his own, reinvented it for a new crowd and a new genre and not many people can get away with doing that to such a classic song.
With such a dance happy atmosphere for the majority of the evening, it seemed fitting to bring the tone down for the simple acoustic end. Matt Costa emerged to join Jack on 'Lullaby'; their collaboration on his latest album 'Sing-A-Longs' and 'Lullabies' for the film 'Curious George'. It really did have a lullaby effect as everyone seemed to settle down and begin to reflect, probably on the long journey home but it did get noticeably quieter. 'Better Together' closed the night and it never sounded better. Tinged with sadness at the realisation it was all over, the last chorus was sung with so much heart-stopping enthusiasm so as to make sure that the full impact was felt of what had been an inspiring night.
People may get blasť about Jack Johnson now that he has become so successful but he has worked hard to establish himself. This effort showed in his humble appreciation of the crowd which made him an even more likeable figure. As a musician there are none who could topple him at the moment so don't be surprised if his albums are the summer soundtrack again.