Entering the Santa Barbara Bowl on a decidedly darker night than the summer season, I could feel a more hectic energy in the air as crowds darted through in a post-work frenzy. Fortunately, Jack Johnson, who was performing night one of his double-header, is the perfect antidote to the stresses of a busy fall. As soon as I heard his rich vocals and buttery guitar on the opener “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” I stopped waiting to be anywhere else and melted into my seat.
Johnson’s generous two-hour-plus set treated fans to all the hits as well as tracks from his excellent new album Meet the Moonlight. The hypnotizing beat of “One Step Ahead,” which beckons listeners to “Never mind all the noise going through your head,” transported me further into the present. Johnson is the master of creating a sweet communal vibe, and though he is wildly talented, he never makes the show about him. His banter with multi-instrumentalist Zach Gill felt fun and inclusive of the enamored audience. Gill’s talents were on full display, especially during “Flake,” which turned into a mashup with “In the Summertime.” Gill, a Goleta local, even rocked the melodica, and his solo on “You and Your Heart” left the audience transfixed.
Lighthearted classics like “Upside Down” and “Bubble Toes” kept the mood light, and Johnson’s anecdotes about playing on the streets of Isla Vista and later at local Restaurant Roy lent the show an extra familiarity, intimacy, and connectedness.
Johnson ended his stellar set with the heart-warmer “Better Together,” bringing up everyone who joined him throughout the show, including openers Ron Artis II, Thunderstorm Artis, and friend Paula Fuga. As they sang in tender harmony and the crowd drew closer, he certainly proved the track’s title to be true.