Jack Johnson, Matt Costa, Will Connor @ Memorial Drive, Adelaide (27/3/08)

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In the short time that it has taken Jack Johnson to become a big-billing star, his tours have gone from under-card spots for his pal Ben Harper to travelling communities of ecomentalists. In addition to on-site water and waste management systems and recycling services, several tents were set up inside the standing area at Memorial Drive, each with an environmental cause to urge upon concert-goers. The organisers’ intentions are admirable, of course; they want to minimise the footprint left by the tour and one would presume that a Jack Johnson crowd would embrace such efforts. Given the many thousands of litres of water clearly not wasted on bathing by the surfers in attendance, one might say the organisers were preaching to the converted. But the empty beer cans that quickly consumed the floor suggested that not everyone was on the wagon.

One guy who certainly was, though, was Byron Bay’s Will Connor. With multi-instrumentalist accompaniment from Dave Rastovich, Connor opened the love-in. His cosy, acoustic pop is redolent with the seaside sanctity that has endeared Johnson’s music to millions around the world; so much so, however, that Connor risks becoming an Australian franchise for the Jack Johnson brand. While many have understandably been inspired by Johnson’s sound, its distinctiveness can make similar musicians, like Donavon Frankenreiter for example, sound like substitutes. While Connor’s feel-good melodies will rightfully endear many new fans on this tour, the experience should contribute to a more substantial style of his own.

As the sun went down, so did the temperature, creating a restless air in the crowd. The arrival of Matt Costa and band brought a full, up-beat sound and the crowd were soon dancing off the chill. Costa’s melodic pop is reminiscent of the folk-pop scenes of the Fifties and Sixties and the later generations they influenced. The bouncy, piano-driven Mr Pitiful could have been as easily influenced by The Kinks as it could The Shins. There were tinges of power-pop, country, even bluegrass, but the appeal of Costa’s songs is in their fundamental quality. A song like Emergency Call would be strong if performed just with an acoustic guitar and his charmingly pallid voice; the big-band snare and lap-steel guitar are complementary, not essential.

But no-one was going to overshadow the arrival of his Brushfire Records label-mate, Jack Johnson. Much has been made of Sleep Through The Static being the album on which Johnson has gone electric, but he has always recorded with both acoustic and electric guitars. It is true, though, that the latest album certainly favours the electric and uses a broader range of instrumentation, but this doesn’t detract from his established sound, as evidenced on the performances of Staple It Together , the ever-popular Flake, and when Matt Costa and band returned to help out on Good People. If there’s a significant difference between the songs of Sleep Through The Static and previous albums, it’s an element of melancholy. The title track does little to hide Johnson’s cynicism regarding the US’s role in world affairs, but it is perhaps with All At Once that he best conveys just how overwhelming the world’s troubles have become: “Sometimes it feels like a heart/Is no place to be singing from at all”.

Rarely is Johnson not among friends, however, and another member of the Brushfire Records family, G Love, joined Johnson and the band on stage to wrap up a great show with a major-keyed version of Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love? and Mudfootball.

Check out all the photos HERE