Thursday, February 24, 2011

jack johnson: sidney myer music bowl

Cats and dogs doesn’t really cover it. As the rain continued to fall and the sky steadfastly refused to brighten, I can’t have been the only one to have thought to themselves that this wasn’t exactly what they’d had in mind when they snapped up tickets to see Jack Johnson at Melbourne’s premier outdoor venue.

Held up by the deluge, we squelched our way into the venue just in time to catch the roadies packing up after Ash Grunwald. But no matter. He’d guest on slide-guitar with Jack later. And Tegan and Sarah were up soon enough with an uninspiring but perfectly likeable set of their tween-friendly, quirky-but-not-too-quirky brand of so-called ‘indie rock’. As Tegan remarked to the audience that Melbourne was one her favourite cities in the world because it was ‘just so cool and arty and fashionable and stuff’, I couldn’t help but think to myself that there was a certain amount of cognitive dissonance going on here. Here was a crowd which looked as if it had been on a mass outing to Cotton-On on its way to the gig, each and every one of whom had forked out serious cash to consume an experience that could only have been more mainstream if it had been Pink who was headlining: and an indie-kid in skinny black jeans and a severe haircut was up there applauding them for their edginess.

Everyone was here, of course, for the man who’s made a uniform out of baggy blue jeans, a t-shirt and thongs. Jack Johnson is almost certainly the nicest musician in the world. For all I know, he may well be the nicest person too. And he puts on a seriously nice show to boot. The drizzle had become mercifully light and any lingering sogginess was quickly forgotten as the bushfire sing-a-longs were fired out one after another with considerable musicianship and precision. Forget that they all sound so incredibly similar that it’s genuinely difficult to know which particular set of lyrics Jack’s going to launch into after any given intro. Forget that he rocks about as hard as sponge-bob square-pants. This is the man who recorded the soundtrack to a film about a cartoon monkey, after all, and whose encore included a genuinely witty re-imagining of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

If the chord structures are simple it is because Jack Johhnson deals in simple joys. And good luck to him. I have rarely seen so many sincerely happy faces in such neat rows. There was not a jot of artifice present. No trendy aloofness or vulgar big-day-outitude. This version of the mainstream is not the enemy. This is a mainstream full of warm fuzzies, lolling melodies and sincere (eco-)idealism (every cent of the tour’s profit will be donated to charity). And god knows that’s something we could all do with a jolt of every now and again. Jack Johnson has made an entire career out of administering it.

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