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Review: Jack Johnson makes a connection
REVIEW BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Johnson: Hawaii loves you so.
And if Saturday night’s concert at Hawaii Theatre is any indication, you’re going to collect enough love during this sold-out, seven-concert tour of the Islands to last the rest of the 2012.
You may be halfway between your parents and a hippie in a tent, like you sang that night, but that just means you’re both responsible and a fun-loving environmentalist. You’re a darn good guy who sings about profound domestic happiness and projects an aura of confidence and satisfaction. And you surf!
No wonder Hawaii audiences, in particular, eat up what you’re cooking.
If they really listen, too, they might pick up some of that joy in connection that you’re peddling. And it is a music of connection.
At the concert Saturday night, Johnson’s show was generously sprinkled with love songs, and you can’t get more connected than that. He jokingly blamed it on his wife, who wrote the set list, but never mind.
Even his breakup song, “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” also in the concert, was written for a friend. Grinning, he told the audience how he came up with it after hearing his friend’s story too many times. I was glad he cleared that up, because I’ve always felt that line from the song, “Must I always be playing, playing your fool?” just didn’t sound like it came from the life of Johnson.
Looking like a vaguely athletic everyman up there on stage, sitting on a high stool wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt, two-day stubble and a curly mop of hair down to his shoulders, he charmed and impressed an affectionate audience.
All of the profits from these Hawaii concerts will go to Johnson’s Kokua Hawaii Foundation, supporting environmental programs, so there was an extra element of “doing good by doing well” going on there, too.
With fellow Hawaii do-gooders Paula Fuga and John Cruz (both contributors to the Mana Maoli project supporting Native Hawaiian music and education) as his partners on stage, the message was clear — this night was all about celebrating Hawaii, friendship, family and acoustic soul.
FUGA AND CRUZ opened the show with their own short sets, both cheery. After their sets, Johnson played alone for a bit, then brought the two back to harmonize with him. All were miked, but used acoustic instruments.
Cruz, especially, was more engaged than I’ve seen him in previous shows. He was in obvious good spirits, too, telling stories and joking about the “hidden meaning” of “Shine On.” It was good to see him energized.
At the end of his set, Cruz held the audience quiet for a slow-burning version of Bob Marley’s wistful “Rastaman Chant, with its line, “One bright morning, I will fly away home to Zion.”
As Fuga sang, first up on the schedule at the Hawaii Theatre, I thought of a story Johnson told about his 5-year-old son, who always recognizes Fuga’s voice, and says, “That’s Paula Fuga, the best singer in the world!”
Fuga’s expressive, soulful delivery and warm timbre do have a way of making you pay notice. Johnson told me that he loves to see audiences outside of Hawaii react once they hear the way she sings. She undoubtedly earned more new admirers on her own home turf Saturday night.
Of course, the big love was reserved for Johnson. Fuga merely had to mention his name to get the crowd shouting. Once Johnson walked out on stage, calls of “I love you!” “You’re sexy!” and “Wooo!” were coming from all sides.
Johnson built an intimate connection with a full house of appreciative listeners, presenting his songs in stripped-down, mellow and folky fashion.
He sounded a little drowsy at first, as he warmed up with a story-song, “Holes to Heaven,” about “Port Blaire, where boats break and children stare,” but that quickly cleared up and his voice was clear and warm throughout.
Then he got on to the love songs, singing “From the Clouds”: “Oh, you’re such a pretty thing, I’ll take you and I’ll make you all mine.”
The clever wordplay and sincerity of the songs rang true. With this and other familiar songs, some audience members sang along enthusiastically … mostly on tune.
Fuga and Cruz added dynamism for a second act, and that added icing to the cake.
On “Give Voice,” which normally includes a horn part, the three played “mouth trumpet,” as Johnson has called it, imitating the sounds and laughing just a little. Johnson and Fuga also traded off whistle solos — these two are pretty good at that.
One of the prettiest songs of the night, with its allusions to the Hawaiian skies, was “Constellations,” performed by all three. It paints a charming picture of communion, with “just enough light/ To lay down underneath the stars/ Listen to all the translations/ Of the stories across the sky.”
By the time “Banana Pancakes,” one of Johnson’s most popular, climaxed his show on Saturday night, an obvious glow had settled over the crowd, who’d heard the songs they’d come to hear and then some.
Lady, lady, love me
’cause I love to lay here lazy
We could close the curtains
Pretend like there’s no world outside
You might be tempted to write this off as syrupy mush, but I hear it for a timeless and closely imagined fantasy about making a new world out of a romantic partnership. They call that poetry around some parts.
During an interview with TGIF last week, Johnson said he had no plans for the rest of the year, beyond kicking it with family. Two shows deep into this series, he’s let his hair down, and he’s surely collecting enough affection to last a while.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is TGIF Editor at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Reach her via email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.