A single overhead light came on in the middle of the stage. It wasn’t very bright though, it was more like when you visit an old house and they are still using incandescent light bulbs despite the fact they are almost burnt out and really inefficient. The mellow crowd got quite loud quite quickly, while the rest of the stage lights slowly went up to reveal Jack Johnson and his band casually walking out to get to their positions. Instead of a typical scrim backdrop with a band logo or LCD screens projecting various images, 2×4 planks adorned the back to make the night feel like we are watching an intimate performance in Johnson’s own living room. With calming coolness firmly established he spoke gently into the microphone asking if the crowd enjoyed the opening act Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros promising they would be back later to help him out. It was a shame I missed their set, as unfortunately I had to wait in line for almost 90-minutes to get my ticket from will call.
Johnson played a very lengthy set as he has proven time and again that he is more about the music than being a rock star or media hound. Each song quickly moved onto the next. He started the set out with Washing Dishes from last years From Here to Now to You. His set list was perfectly crafted where every song was the perfect pace to make you continually have a gentle dance going on. It seems hard to believe that he has been putting out music for 15 years already and has barely strayed from his style of music, yet never seeming stale. When the opening chords for Sitting, Waiting, Wishing came on the crowd went nuts and sung along for the whole song, and made my inner 16 year old self giddy for hearing one of my all-time favourite songs live was a real treat. Having a full band gives his music an extra oomph, especially with an added twangy piano solo from Zach Gill (who when not touring with Johnson is the lead singer of ALO, a band signed to Johnson’s label).
The set played out like a greatest hits night, with a few songs from all of his albums to the delight of the crowd. Gill’s sporadic xylophone playing in songs gave them an almost dreamlike feel, especially on songs like Fortunate Fool an already breezy song. Johnson never shies away from being proud that he is a family man “I have some good friends here who brought there kids, so I want to play them a song before they go to sleep!” He played Upside Down a song from the Curious George soundtrack which he curated featuring all of his musician friends playing, teaching kids about friendship, respect and environmental conservation. The young kids sitting two rows in front of me jumped into the aisles to dance along, I guess their parents happily play his work on repeat for them.
While the weather was a bit chilly in the open air Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, hearing Inaudible Melodies, which is one of the best jams celebrating lazy summers, helped set the crowd in the mood the our recent hot days. While Johnson played several songs with an electric guitar he let special guest Afie Jurvanen who records under the name Bahamas come out and play a few songs including some extended soloing on Breakdown to get the crowd rocking. Johnson later showed off his Hawaiian true colours when he broke out a ukulele that matched his surfer graphic tee and his always-present sandals.
It is probably for the best that Johnson spoke minimally to the crowd, since it seemed that his singing voice was loud and clear, but every time he would interact with the crowd it was next to impossible to understand what he was saying. I managed to understand a sweet story about how one of his songs was inspired by trying to discipline his then 3-year-old child. He would sing a silly ditty to get him to behave, but found out that he could rearrange the words slightly to make something great. That song ended up becoming If I Had Eyes, from Sleep Through The Static, his biggest departure from his normal sound, where he *gasp* recorded it with mostly electric instruments!
He ended his set with Good People, where the lights facing the crowd went up while he was asking where all do the good people go, to the crowds delight. After a very short break Johnson came back out and played two songs alone including Do You Remember and Home. Then he brought out Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, Bahamas and his band back out to play a few surprise songs. They started out with this reviewers favourite Beatles song Rocky Racoon, an old west ditty about a man who tried to win back his former lover and gets shot in the process. They then played I Shall Be Released a song by Bob Dylan although most famous for being the closing number in The Last Waltz, the documentary about Dylan’s former backing band… The Band. Edward Sharpe’s lead singer Alex Ebert’s microphone was too low to hear him properly, but the horn section made up for this loss. The night ended with the very fitting song, Better Together. While the night wasn’t spent on a beach in front of a campfire it was still a fantastic night out where it felt like Jack was merely entertaining 16,000 of his closest friends.