Jack Johnson (photo: Joshua Huver)
Despite having a reputation as one of the most laid-back musicians of the past fifteen years, Jack Johnson, the Hawaii-dwelling acoustic guitar wielding surf nut who can turn anything into a song, has also proven himself to be one of the hardest working.
Across two days last week, Wednesday and Thursday, July 26 and 27, Johnson played a double-header at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley and demonstrated his abilities with set lists that featured nearly 30 songs on Wednesday and 33 on Thursday, including several guest appearances, covers, medleys, and stories in between.
On Friday, things got started early with fans lining up outside of the Greek Theatre as early as 3pm to get that front row spot. Despite an abundance of information about the show online, many ticket holders I encountered were curious about the mystery “special guest” opener that was printed on their tickets.
In reality, long-time friends from college and Bay Area legends Animal Liberation Orchestra, or ALO, opened. Even though John Craigie, a troubadour out of Santa Monica, opened on Thursday, ALO was featured heavily both nights and played no less than eight songs on stage during Johnson’s sets.
The venue was maybe a third of the way full when ALO took the stage. By the time they finished their hour long, seven song set, they had earned the ears of several new fans. Their set included classic ALO staples such as “Plastic Bubble,” “Shapeshifter,” and “Barbeque,” as well as a cover of “1999” by Prince.
One of the things that most immediately caught the attention of unaware fans was the fact that ALO’s keyboardist, vocalist, and general merrymaker Zach Gill also has been playing keyboards and accordion for Johnson’s band since 2005, and they have been friends since attending UC Santa Barbara together in the early ’90s.
Less than 20 minutes after ALO wrapped, Johnson, Gill, drummer Adam Topol, and bassist Merlo Podlewski ventured on stage and began with “If I Had Eyes” from Johnson’s 2005 disc Sleep Through The Static before moving into a medley of his 2005 track “Do You Remember” with an extended tease on Rox‘s “My Baby Left Me” near the end.
Johnson first broke the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts with his 2006 soundtrack, Sing-A-Longs And Lullabies For The Film Curious George and moved into the first track off the album, “Upside Down” and into “Traffic In The Sky” from his sophomore album, 2003’s On And On. These two tracks also marked the first of 10 total repeats between evenings.
“We’ve got smoke machines, but it looks like you guys are doing most of the work,” Johnson joked between songs, moving from his electric guitar to an acoustic. “We have an acoustic request from Zach’s daughter. It’s an older one, but she likes to keep us on our toes.”
“Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” featured a verse from the Cars’ 1978 debut single “Just What I Needed” before Johnson decided to treat the crowd to a brand new song, “My Mind Is For Sale,” another repeat from the night before. The staunchly anti-Trump song is slated to appear on Johnson’s upcoming album, All The Light Above It Too. Check it out below:
Johnson reached even further back in time than the younger Gill’s request for “Inaudible Melodies,” and “Flake,” both from 2001’s Brushfire Fairytales, his solo debut album.
A touching an intimate glimpse into the musicality of Johnson’s daily life came next with a few answering machine recordings and how they evolved into larger pieces of his repertoire — including “Theme From Thicker Than Water,” a documentary Johnson directed in 2000. The stories and small jingles were surrounded by 2013’s “Radiate” and “Tomorrow Morning,” the later of which featured a surprisingly spaced-out jam with heavy delay effects and a deep groove.
Following the answering machine hijinks, the band moved into “Bubble Toes,” a Jorge Ben Jor cover of “Mas Que Nada” that melted into “Staple It Together.” Following a verse from Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Johnson invited Den Lebowitz, Dave Brogan, and Steve Adams from ALO onstage to join in another brand new song, called “Big Sur.” Watch it below:
ALO stayed onstage for the next three songs — “Rodeo Clowns,” “Breakdown,” and the ALO original “Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down.” For the ALO original, Johnson’s band relinquished their instruments to play percussion and rhythm.
After ALO left the stage, Gill decided to stretch his legs and moved from keys to accordion for “Banana Pancakes,” the song that he first made his debut with Johnson’s band, at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, 12 years ago. Included within the song were quotes and teases from “Same Girl.”
Johnson ended the show with “Good People” and “Better Together” around 10PM, but returned minutes later for a four song, 15-minute encore of “Home,” “I Got You,” “Willie Got Me Stoned and Stole All My Money” and finally ending the evening with “Constellations.”