Windows two stories tall lay to Jack Johnson's
back, revealing a stunningly gorgeous view of Columbus Circle. The sun was just beginning to set, and it cast a pink atmospheric hue over the southeast corner of Central Park. Johnson sat on the small stage calmly, simply, and in stark contrast to the rest of the scene at The Allen Room. The Allen Room is a swanky uptown concert hall normally reserved for Jazz events. It was filled to the brim with middle-aged men wearing blazers and blue jeans, accompanied by their ornate, lavish wives. It can seat up to 500 people when need be, but last night it appeared that less than 200 lucky fans witnessed this intimate session at one of New York's most remarkable venues.
Jack Johnson gently lifted his guitar to his knee and addressed the crowd. A collective exhale ensued. Everyone except his loved ones, whom he addressed several times throughout the show, seemed to be in disbelief that they were less than 50 feet from the Oahu-born musician. With a stream of cars funneling into Columbus Circle behind him, and fireworks appearing in the distance over the park, it truly was a cosmic occasion. So often when listening to Jack Johnson's music it feels as though it had always been there, as if the voice on the record could never belong to a tangible being. Instead, the song's origin must be attributed to some old traveler, or maybe a far away spirit, reaching through the ether to impart some wisdom from a simpler time. The message is clear: take it easy, enjoy small blessings, and love every soul you meet. It is staggering, however, when you realize the voice does not belong to some bodhisattva transcending space and time, but to a man in his 30s, ten feet away from you, holding a guitar and wearing sandals.
Johnson's signature voice and soft strumming carried him through new unreleased tracks as well as old favorites. All the while he was laughing, joking, and describing the inspirations that lead to each song. "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing," is about a friend of his who spent four months trying to woo an uninterested woman. Jack said he sees the boy from "Do You Remember" playing it cool when he locks his bike to hers, like James Dean. His wife, on the other hand, pictures him hiding in the bushes, peering out nervously to see her reaction. "Times Like These" was written just after 9/11, and Johnson always thinks of New York when he plays it. "Good People" was inspired by an annoying reality TV producer begging him to use a song, and most of his songs start out in an attempt to tease his wife. He scattered a few new songs in there too, like "Washing Dishes," "Ones and Zeros," and "You Remind Me of You." ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) front man Zack Gil also joined Jack on stage, tickling the ivory and jamming on the accordion. After two psyche-outs the duo kicked off the second encore with "Girl I Wanna Lay You Down."
Jack Johnson is one of those rare souls that does not come around all that often. He makes it clear what he cares about, and you cannot help but believe him. He loves his wife, he loves his children, and he writes soulful, honest music. He's the kind of artist who, by example, makes you want to be a better person. You may not particularly like his brand of music, but if you saw him live in a setting like last night's, I'm sure he'd charm you all the same. If you are an avid Jack listener, you can catch this great show on PBS during the third week in September.
DISCLAIMER: The ushers were very adamant about The Allen Room's no camera policy, but I managed to sneak a few shots in with my cell phone. Check out this incredible venue below.