TAMPA — He is a shoeless salve for these harried times. He is the best-selling nonconformist of the 21st century. And he has become a pop phenom despite possessing the looks and panache of the scruff who cruises your neighborhood offering to power wash your driveway for $25.
How can you not love Jack Johnson? At 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre on Wednesday, the surfer-songwriter preached his earnest hang-ten gospel to 17,500 damp, blissed-out loyalists who stood and swayed to every gentle word, every opiatic hug of island-time pop: "Slow down, everyone, 'cause you're moving too fast."
Backed by a groovin' three-piece band (they'll clean your gutters for $50), the 35-year-old Hawaiian opened his predictably lush, laid-back two-hour show with the song Banana Pancakes, which is about forgoing the outside world, lovin' it up inside and, well, enjoying a warm, delicious breakfast.
It may sound silly, frivolous, but therein lies the JJ magic: He is not about rocking you out, but rocking you into a smiling stupor. You can wave him off as boring, but you're not paying attention.
Johnson's subtle brand of somnambulism is not nearly as easy to create as it sounds. He smartly taps into a highly singable, "Schoolhouse Rock" vibe, the jazzy bounce of his tunes in step with the steady sway of a hammock.
Johnson is also an incredibly sly phraser, as evidenced in the up-down cadence of You and Your Heart and the cleverly romantic Sitting, Waiting, Wishing, in which he released a high arcing croon that should be unleashed more often.
Married to his longtime love for 17 years, Johnson serenaded her (and all the young women in the female-strong, skin-aplenty crowd) with Do You Remember, his crisp but soothing vocal drenched in puppy love.
He wasn't all about amour. The sadly prophetic The Horizon Has Been Defeated sounded positive, but its doomsaying words ("… until the drilling goes too far") had a chilling effect. Johnson is as "green" as it gets; his record label is run by solar power. For all his loose charms, he makes sure his eco-warnings pack punch.
Halfway through the show, the guy next to me asked, "Has he said anything to the audience?" The answer: not really. Instead, Johnson kept a-crankin' through 20-plus songs, including the kiddie delight of Upside Down from Curious George.
To add a lil' pep to the end, he brought out opening act G. Love for raging harmonica and get-down blues. But the Jack Johnson spell had long been cast: Sweet dreams, boys and girls.