One of the greatest perks of being a lifelong music journalist is being aware of entire segments of music ignored by the mainstream. Even the standard mxdwn readers perusing this article right now would be surprised at how certain genres or sub-sections of music boast fandom as sizable as the biggest names endlessly droned about on traditional media channels. Why? Our system is set up aiming for a greatest common denominator. A glossy, fun, inoffensive view of the world at large that often seems to ignore how most of the world really thinks and feels. Yes, the populous is being marginalized. Marginalized on so many levels it’s almost frightening. Large scores of the nations best and brightest are treated on the national level as if their taste doesn’t matter, or as if, even worse, their culture doesn’t exist at all.
For those of you reading this who have been following mxdwn since the early 2000’s, you might remember we have long covered what we—lacking any better term—have referred to as “good vibes” music. This encompasses the artists officially (and some unofficially) associated with Brushfire Records: Matt Costa, Donavon Frankenreiter, A.L.O., G. Love and the label’s namesake creator, Jack Johnson. We’ve always enjoyed covering these artists and Jack in particular. And as our premise would have you believe, it is almost the music listening world’s most unrecognized mass conglomeration of fans. Oceans and oceans of fans live for the smooth, joyful music these artists have been quietly cranking out for over fifteen years. Tonight, Jack Johnson himself headlined the prestigious Hollywood Bowl, and to gaze upon the crowd present, it’s hard to imagine the massive venue being more sold out than it was tonight. Not an inch of space was left anywhere. Believe us. We spend nearly ten nights every Summer at shows here. It was packed up to the furthest stretches of the back seats.
Three of the Brushfire affiliated artists/friends have a new band called Jamtown. They had the good fortune of opening the show in front of this capacity crowd. Jamtown features Donavon Frankenreiter, Cisco Adler and G. Love (of G. Love and Special Sauce fame). Jamtown exists in the groovier side of folk music, living up to their name in terms of technical skills, but not layering on too much in terms of overwrought soloing. “Strawberry Moon,” one of the band’s first songs composed together, had the already packed house dancing and happy. Backed by a full band of players, the three singers harmonize well together. A new song “Shoot the Breeze” closed out their set with the three trading off verses over the rollicking acoustic melodies.
In the headliner slot, Johnson came to the stage much as his music would indicate: without pretension or showiness. He opened with In Between Dreams cut “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” and scarcely stopped for a breath from there. “Taylor” and “Flake” followed from there. Before the latter of which, he pointed to his cup on stage indicating it had the silhouette of recently departed friend Ben Beverly. He remarked, “He’s a good friend and we lost him this year. So if you’re taking a sip, take it for Ben.” Johnson’s keyboardist Zach Gill (also known as A.L.O’s frontman) took an impressive solo near the end of the song. The set included numerous covers, the first of which being a standard Johnson medley of Sublime’s “Badfish” and “Boss D.J.” mashed up together. “Boss D.J.” in particular featuring a super appropriate lyric for this evening, “Nowadays all the songs on the radio / they all / all drive me crazy.”
“Inaudible Melodies” Johnson elongated, using the bridge to explain the genesis of the song came from bits of lectures from a professor while he was attending film school. The song’s lyric, “Slow down everyone / You’re moving too fast / Frames can’t catch you when / you’re moving that fast,” was apparently culled from a reference to Bruce Lee when he started making movies. Lee, being too fast for 24 frames per second, had to slow down his movements so it would look appropriate on film. Johnson then hilariously sang the lyric as first written replacing “everyone” with “Bruce.” In a rare showing of political commentary new single “My Mind is For Sale” was played shortly thereafter. He then told a charming story about what used to be his voicemail message at his home (“I got a girl named Kimmy / She likes to do the shimmy shimmy shimmy”) and followed that up with a song he once wrote for his wife and left on their answering machine while he was on tour, “Tomorrow Morning.” Dialing up the sweetness even further he dropped in first album Brushfire Fairytales track “Bubble Toes” and then effortless mutated it into a cover of the Steve Miller Band classic “The Joker.”
“Wasting You” was a plaintive plea for openness and willingness to learn rather than assuming what the people around you think. A call for whistling brought the laid-back beach vibes to their apex on “I Got You.” While after that, “Constellations” brought the nature-loving ruminations to a gorgeous boil. One of his most impressive compositions came shortly thereafter, “Breakdown.” While commonly known as being released on the 2005 album In Between Dreams, an alternate version of “Breakdown” was first released on the final Handsome Boy Modeling School album White People (for those unfamiliar Handome Boy was a supergroup collaborative hip-hop project led by Dan The Automator and Prince Paul). Here, Johnson played his serene version, ruminating wonderfully on a train passing multitudes of interesting people and places, hoping only for the train to breakdown so he could explore.
The latter part of the set featured some of the fans’ most beloved of his songs. “Banana Pancakes” and “Shot Reverse Shot” edged the set proper to its conclusion. G. Love then joined him onstage for their outstanding collaboration “Rodeo Clowns.” G. Love stayed to wail on harmonica as Johnson played the interrogative “At or With Me.” Another pretty seamless cover followed, “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric featuring the longing lyric, “There’s only one girl for me / she probably lives in Tahiti.” Hit songs “Good People” and “Mudfootball” closed out the set proper (the latter of which again featuring G. Love but also this time Donavon Frankenreiter). Given the strict curfew times present at the Hollywood Bowl, Johnson wasted no time with a long encore break. He returned almost immediately to play a slew of songs solo, even offering the crowd to shout out things by request. Before he was finished he strummed out lovely renditions of “Do You Remember,” “Home,” “Better Together” and a hilarious story of getting stoned with Willie Nelson and losing all his money to him in a poker game called “Willie Got Me Stoned and Stole All My Money.”
Some thirty-three songs or more later and the show is complete. No, there might not be much in the way of “edge” or “hip-ness” to Jack Johnson’s show, but a legion of fans know what most of the USA has been missing since 2001. There is earnestness on display here that is both enrapturing and soothing. The music nails a supremely happy and optimistic vibe and refuses to leave it for anything else. In this world, life is beautiful and everyone just wants to know why you don’t see it as clearly as they do.
Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
You Might Just Let it Go
You and Your Heart
The Horizon Has Been Defeated
Badfish / Boss D.J. (Sublime)
Inaudible Melodies (Bruce Lee story)
My Mind is For Sale (new song)
Voicemail song / Tomorrow Morning
Bubble Toes / The Joker (Steve Miller Band)
I Got You
You Remind Me of You
Breakdown (Handsome Boy Modeling School)
Tape Deck (about first band Limber Chicken)
Shot Reverse Shot
Rodeo Clowns (with G. Love)
At or With Me (with G. Love)
(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World (Wreckless Eric)
Mudfootball (with G. Love and Donavon Frankenreiter)
Do You Remember (solo)
Willie Got Me Stoned and Stole All My Money (solo)
Better Together (solo)