“It seems to me that maybe”….. I should start calling myself a Jack Johnson fan. I’m embarrassed to say that prior to Saturday’s Brisbane show, I’d never seen the American singer-songwriter before. I’m embarrassed to say that, had someone asked me to name five of his songs, I would probably have struggled. And yet, during Jack’s near two-hour long set, it was odd to realise that there were few songs I didn’t know the words to. This perhaps best speaks to the power of this artistic juggernaut. While Jack could boast (unlikely) of his multiple Grammy nominations, his worldwide fandom or of his millions upon millions of views on the socials, to experience that kind of reach – where your songs actually become part of common, even unconscious, vernacular, is hard to imagine. Fortunately for us, Jack’s lyrics typically preach life and love, including a love for our environment. For more than a decade now his record label (Brushfire Records) and touring crew have worked towards ‘greening’ the music industry by expanding eco-friendly touring practices and promoting sustainable food and plastic free initiatives. To celebrate his eighth studio album, Meet the Moonlight, the surfer-turned musician played five Australian shows: all outdoors and under said moonlight. On the Brisbane leg Jack was supported by none other than Ziggy Alberts and Indigenous newcomer Emily Wurramara, both of whom returned to the stage later to join the headliner.
To suggest that there was ‘standing room only’ by the time Jack came on is a huge understatement. It was obvious people had gotten there early, laid down their picnic blankets and settled in to watch the sunset. Brisbane had put on quite the sunny summer afternoon for us too which meant punters were very happy to wait. We didn’t have to wait long though – Jack came on right on time despite his warning us that he may not. Surf was up on the Goldy and an earlier post on his socials suggested Jack was having a hard time tearing himself away from the beach. The band is certainly no stranger to Australia, having toured at least six times before and while I have seen countless shows in Brisbane over the years, I can honestly say I have never heard a crowd roar like they did for Jack Johnson on Saturday night.
One doesn’t become a multi-platinum selling musician, nor have a career that spans decades without truly understanding their audience and making a connection. Johnson’s care and attention to detail in this regard was once again obvious on tour with Saturday night’s setlist sure to please even the ‘oldest’ of fans. Yes, there were songs played from the latest album (Costume Party, One Step Ahead, & Don’t look Now) but these were carefully weaved between twenty or more beloved tracks from the entire array of Jack’s back catalogue. Those who’ve followed the artist for more than two decades would have no doubt approved of Jack’s heavy drawing from debut album Brushfire Fairytales and from his 2005 In between dreams. Taylor from the latter started the show and allowed the crowd to quickly warm up their vocal cords before the real singalong began during Sitting, Waiting, Wishing, up next. By the time the familiar riff to Flake began, there was no stopping the capacity Brisbane crowd – Jack now had 9500 backup singers and you know what, they did alright! Next came one of many mashups – a combo of Upside down / Time is the master/ Badfish and John Holt cover You can’t control it.
In Inaudible Melodies, drummer Adam Topal gets the first chance to show off his numerous talents. Actually Jack takes the time to introduce and pay tribute to all long-term band members during the set (bassist: Merlo Podlewski; and pianist but also singer/songwriter/ ALO member: Zach Gill). When Emily Wurramara returns to the stage to sing Lady Blue as a duet, it is easy to see why Johnson chose the up-and-comer to support him. The song’s calming melody and hypnotic ukulele immediately transport us to the water, like so many of the headliner’s tunes. This was followed by crowd pleaser Bubble Toes – you know the one – la-da-da-da-da-da – just try not to join in. Next, it’s Zach Gill’s time to sing along, offering the last verse of the undulating and understated Wasting Time.
In between new tracks, Costume Party and Don’t Look Now, Ziggy Alberts returns to the stage. Here we are treated to Heaven, the first single of Ziggy’s second album ‘Laps around the Sun’ and the first of his tracks to ever reach ARIA chart status. Ziggy clearly has a good fanbase here too – and why not; he tells us ‘you sound beautiful Brisbane’ before heading backstage again. Ultra-fun Banana Pancakes follows before the rhythmic Rodeo Clowns. It seems like an odd note to finish on in some ways as the band leaves the stage. Fortunately, we are not done yet! Jack returns amid thunderous applause, the likes of which I have not heard in Australia before. I also can’t recall seeing an artist give us seven, yes seven, encores. How blessed Brisbane feels at this point. Most of these see Jack on stage solo doing acoustic versions of classics like Do you remember and Breakdown while the crowd whistle along to I got you. The full band returns for final track, unsurprisingly, the infamous Better Together. This, like so many of Jack Johnson’s songs, has undeniably entered the realm of cultural artefact. Like so many of his songs, the track just vibrates in a way like it was always going to be written and always going to be so special to so many. Will I be signing up to see Jack and band again? Absolutely. But how to end this review? “There is no combination of words I could say. But I will still tell you one thing, it’s always better when we’re together”. So get there Australia.