Jack Johnson brought his balmy fusion of folk, soft rock, pop and reggae to Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo recently for his Meet The Moonlight Tour. The acclaimed musician is known for his intimate and engaging live performances and he didn’t disappoint his loyal fan base who packed out the famous west London venue.
Jack Johnson @ Hammersmith Apollo
American singer-songwriter, filmmaker and former professional surfer Jack is a Hawaii native, and achieved great commercial success after the release of his debut album, Brushfire Fairytales, in 2001. He has been making sonic waves ever since, with eight studio albums and one soundtrack album under his belt. In June 2023 he released In Between Dub, a remix collection of some of his most beloved recordings with a dub twist, as well as his latest album, Meet The Moonlight which was recorded both in studios in Los Angeles and at The Mango Tree (Johnson’s home studio) in Hawaii.
On the night, Jack was supported by prominent British singer Hollie Cook, the queen of modern-day “lovers rock”, and her band, General Roots, who warmed the audience up nicely before the main man. The audible buzz escalated into loud screams as the lights dimmed and then Jack, his guitar and his three band members emerged from a misty haze. “How’s everybody doing, nice to see you!” he said in his gentle voice, clad in jeans, a t-shirt and flip flops.
The inviting and familiar sounds of Mudfootball (For Moe Lerner) from 2001’s Brushfire Fairytales reverberated through the Apollo, followed by Taylor from 2003’s On And On, which had the crowd joining in to create a collective harmony of voices.
Jack’s a natural on stage and captivated the mixed-age audience with engaging stories and anecdotes. “So nice to be here with you guys”, he said warmly. “I feel like I’ve met so many of you out on the streets… and no, I didn’t forget the words to the second verse, I’m not killing time”, he said with a charming grin.
Riding on the crest of a wave of greatest hits that encompassed Jack’s entire, platinum-award winning discography, it was a woozy, nostalgic trip down memory lane. An introductory segment of Tina Turner’s timeless What’s Love Got to Do With It? seamlessly transitioned into Sitting, Waiting, Wishing from his 2005 album, In Between Dreams.
Jack invited the audience to shout out requests, among them a plea for Fortunate Fool from Brushfire Fairytales. As the familiar, soothing opening of Jack’s debut single, Flake, rang out across the venue, many of the crowd shouted back the lyrics word-for-word. Bathed in a rosy pink spotlight, they swayed along to the slide guitar and steel drum sounds.
The band performed against a backdrop of undulating panels and a large, circular screen with changing visuals; whether corals on the sea bed, the moon or candy floss pink clouds, it created a visually stunning atmosphere that really brought the songs to life.
There’s an easy, natural chemistry between the band; Adam Topol on drums, Merlo Podlewski on bass and Jack’s long-standing collaborator and multi-instrumentalist, Zach Gill from ALO on keys and accordion. You And Your Heart, the opener to 2010’s album To The Sea, was followed by Upside Down, written, co-produced, and performed by Jack for the 2006 animated film Curious George. With an infectious, playful quality, it was easy to feel like a child again no matter your actual age.
Despite some of the tracks being over two decades old, they haven’t lost any of their timeless appeal or shine. Jack also took the opportunity to play some fresher material, including the new album’s lead single One Step Ahead with its soft, sweet sounding guitar licks and the breezy Costume Party. Both tracks showcase Jack’s laidback, effortless songwriting along with producer Blake Mills’s talent for creating rich soundscapes. Unexpected cover versions added an extra layer to the set; Time Is The Master by John Holt and an exquisite version of Badfish by Sublime stood out as highlights.
The click of drum sticks coming together signalled the beginning of 2001’s Inaudible Melodies, as waves lapped on the screen behind and created a mesmerising backdrop. “Thank you, thank you, thank you” said Jack, expressing his gratitude as the requests were yelled from the crowd. “I’ll have to save a couple of those for later though; I’ve seen what happens… people just make out and go home” he said, flashing a smile. 2001’s Middle Man fused into Pink Floyd’s Breathe (In The Air) and then segued cleverly back into Middle Man, as the band played homage to David Gilmour, who they considered “the coolest person to ever come to one of our gigs”.
There was a steady stream of requests throughout the night, and with Go On from 2018’s Sleep Through The Static, Jack replied, “Thank you for requesting this — this is one of my favourite songs.” The crowd were already singing as he played the sleepy introduction to Tomorrow Morning from 2003’s On And On and the contagious rhythm of Bubble Toes had everyone on their feet, singing all the word for word. Zach himself couldn’t resist the music and broke into a dance.
At this point of the set, someone yelled enthusiastically “Play Banana Pancakes!”. Jack chose Constellations instead, the opening track from the same album, 2005’s In Between Dreams. The stage was bathed in cool, blue light, the sounds of slide guitar resonated in the air and the backdrop featured stars and constellations; it was completely enchanting. Staying on the album, the crowd sang along to Breakdown, a slightly stripped-down version that blended a variety of sounds and harmonies.
“Now seems like a really good time to bring Hollie Cook on. She’s from down the street!” Jack said, as they performed a beautiful cover of Bob Marley & The Wailers’s Waiting in Vain, which merged beautifully back into Breakdown, and the Shangri-Las‘s Remember (Walking in the Sand) with a reggae lilt.
The familiar chords of the acoustic standard Banana Pancakes brought arguably the biggest cheer of the night and the audience had their wish. Jack and his band delivered a funked-up rendition, with Zach showing his skills on the accordion and Jack performing an intricate guitar solo. The main set continued with the spirited Shot Reverse Shot from 2013’s From Here To Now To You and concluded beautifully with Good People.
As the encore began, Jack took the stage alone, playfully asking the crowd, “You guys ever do a campfire? Let’s go to a campfire!’. He started Dreams be Dreams from 2013’s On and On but momentarily forgot the words, which prompted a big cheer. Regaining his composure, he said “I wasn’t kidding, let me get my confidence back! OK, I’ll play one I know” and then began playing 2005’s Do You Remember, replacing the lyrics “Over ten years have gone by, we can’t rewind, we’re locked in time” with “29 years’; undoubtedly gooey but lovely all the same.
During the encore, Jack shared the true story behind the song Willie Got Me Stoned And Stole All My Money, when he had the opportunity to hang out with Willie Nelson, playing poker at his house. The audience continued to yell requests and Jack went on telling warm-hearted stories; like when one of his kids knocked his guitar to a B-flat, and instead of getting it fixed, he wrote all his songs in B-flat.
This set the scene for a heartfelt performance of I Got You, a song inspired by his experiences living in a van with his then-girlfriend for four months before they got married. After a swift guitar swap, Jack played the beautiful track Angel from 2008’s Sleep Through The Static. Jack is the master of the key change and his songs are subtle yet anthemic in their own right. As Angel segued beautifully into Better Together, Jack’s band slipped quietly back onto the stage for the finale. As the crowd sang along, it was their faces now displayed on the background visuals – a bobbing sea of happy faces.
Jack is known for his laid-back acoustic sound and catchy melodies, but he is much more than that. It was an intimate performance with a 20-plus track set perfectly delivered to a crowd full of grown ups and young kids, surf-brand t-shirts and good, good vibes.
The general consensus on Jack Johnson’s music is that it is good for the soul, emotionally comforting and evokes cherished memories of travelling. I agree; I left Hammersmith with a smile on my face, a spring in my step and a head full of memories of my own adventures on golden shores. On the late night tube, I wished it was the weekend now, and that I could pretend it all the time.
With a Jack Johnson track, anything is possible.
Review of Jack Johnson at Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith on 21st June 2023 by Nicola Greenbrook. Photography by Dnieper Cruz.