He walked onstage at the State Theatre, wearing jeans, a plain black T and flip flops. Jack Johnson strapped his acoustic guitar in place, and he had the sellout crowd Monday before he even played a note.
If Hallmark made songs in addition to aw-that's-so-sweet greeting cards and two-hanky TV movies, they'd sound like the tunes Johnson played for the next two hours. Sweet, whimsical and warm. Simple, straightforward, melodic ditties that give you a warm glow.
That's the prince of chill music.
The concert was so cozy listeners could well have been in a coffeehouse. In fact, the Hawaiian surfer dude-turned-singer/songwriter, who usually gives big outdoor shows, started in a coffeehouse format — solo acoustic — and did his encore pretty much that way as well. In between, he brought out some friends to accompany him in a concert that felt casual, organic and blissful.
One friend wasn't necessarily expected — Twin Cities singer-songwriter Mason Jennings, who used record for Johnson's record label. They did three numbers together. Three guys who backed Johnson for most of the show also appeared and, later, three players from the opening act, the Bahamas, who added female harmonies and electric guitar.
When Johnson and friends tried to pick up the tempo and volume, it wasn't consistently effective. "At or With Me" rocked but didn't roll. An organ-fueled taste of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" nicely introduced "Staple It Together," a hodgepodge of styles that eventually turned into a Traffic-like jam with a rap by bassist Merlo Podlewski to end it. And the new, up-tempo "Tape Deck" was a teenage flashback to the days when Johnson was a garage-rocker playing Fugazi tunes But he delivered the accordion-accented tune with slide guitar.
Jack Johnson a punk rocker — who knew?
He's always comes across as a hybrid of Raffi and James Taylor, with a flair for delivering lyrics in a sing-songy Nelly kind of way. Although a bit of a rapper, his words are far removed from hip-hop. He likes to sing about life's little epiphanies and pleasures.
"Do You Remember," the night's opener, and "I Got You," the first encore number and his recent single, were reflections on courtship and domestic bliss. Other songs from Johnson's month-old sixth album "From Here To Now To You" addressed familiar themes — the sprightly, vibraphone-punctuated "Washing Dishes" was about dreams, the swirling "Ones and Zeros" discussed greed and guilt, and "Shot Reverse Shot," with its Billy Joel-like "We Didn't Start the Fire" cadence, dealt with finding your own path.
Johnson, 38, impresses as a modern-day hippie, mixing old-fashioned family values with new-world environmental and charitable concerns. More Zen than stoner, he delivered "Banana Pancakes" like it was an accordion-driven polka and told stories about his young kid asking for an "edible watch" when he meant digital. How can you resist a huggable guy whose mien is the musical equivalent of sunsets and smiley faces?