It’s the first concert of Jack Johnson’s two-night tour wind-up in Santa Barbara and G. Love is onstage covering Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” G’s just told the crowd that the song will be on his next album, and he sounds good on it, singing the ‘70s hit with the conviction of a rich-kid-turned-rock-star who’s dumped a model or three in his time. The Simon tune is also a real knee-flapper for Garrett Dutton III, the Philly homeboy who retains many of the mannerisms of the Harvard Square busker he once was, and who semi-discovered Jack Johnson back in 1999 when he was the one with a record to make (cue harmonica solo). Behind him is a banner that reads “the footstompin’ street side blues of g love” — still claiming the street even now that he’s onstage at the Bowl.
Now it’s 8 p.m. on the nose and here’s Jack. In a dark blue t-shirt, sporting a full head of hair, and with a day’s worth of beard clinging to his oh-so-familiar Jack-o’lantern jaw, Johnson swings straight into “You and Your Heart,” the first single off of To the Sea, the studio album that he recorded last spring. Looking around the not-as-crowded-as-I-expected Bowl, I nevertheless get the message: “It’s on.”
Johnson’s second number is the funky unthreatening white blues called “Holes to Heaven” from On and On and, while the wraparound back projections are awesome, what’s more impressive is that this band does it with — wow — no solos at all. In fact, everything about Jack Johnson circa 2010, from his dressed-down appearance and “aw shucks” demeanor to the light and simple arrangements that support his casual-seeming tunes sends the same indefatigable message: “I’m a man who yearns for a simpler time … and can afford to have it.”
Next a brief electronic earpiece malfunction leads Johnson into telling an anecdote about said earpiece. He then dedicates his next song to all the peeps who have brought their young kids to the show that night, a sizable contingent and particularly recognizable now that babies must wear big protective earphones when they attend rock shows. The babies all look like little deejays or miniature audio engineers. From the hipster couples and their digital-age kids to Zach Gill’s frowzy fishing hat, the whole scene is so happy and relaxed that it’s medium cool.
Like California visual artists Richard Diebenkorn and Ed Ruscha before him, Johnson has translated the long horizons of his sea- and sun-soaked life into easy art, the kind that fades away in one delicious feel-good drop. Towards the end of the night the frequency of Santa Barbara name-checks increases, and, “from the Mission to the Mesa,” it’s a local party. After a goofy/straight cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” all his friends come onstage together, and Johnson dares Gill to crowd surf while playing the accordion. And he does.
So it goes, on an on for the biggest anti-fame rock star Santa Barbara’s ever nearly invented. Reminding his wife about how they met at UCSB for an encore, it’s obvious to everyone why it’s good to be Jack. See you on on Sabado Tarde for some wake up slow banana pancakes.