Music review: Jack Johnson's middle-of-the-road sound keeps his core fanbase happy


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The Independent Culture

Few artists would diss digital culture at a music festival organised by the world's largest music download store. Yet of all people, laidback Jack Johnson undermines it, albeit with the grown-up tutting at kids fixated by handheld devices in new song "Ones And Zeros".

You wonder if the Hawaiian performer holds his passion in check on purpose, for Johnson obviously cares deeply about several, mainly green, issues. The merchandise T-shirts are made from organic cotton and all profits from his global jaunt go to charity. Though while attempts at greening his tour and ensuring support for practical initiatives are commendable, the chiselled former surfer struggles to translate all that thought and effort into compelling writing. Then again, it was the warm glow of his mid-noughties peak that won him a huge fanbase, much of which has stayed loyal through the darker shadows of 2010's To The Sea, inspired by his father's passing,

Tonight's gig coincides with the release of sixth album From Here To Now To You that sees Johnson return to a more beach-friendly acoustic sound. It revolves mainly around the quotidian joys of domestic bliss that on this showing are about as involving as leafing through a stranger's family photo album. Johnson may think he is leading us to universal themes via biographical snippets, yet his wonder at the strength of a child's imagination on "Radiate" is far from eye-opening, sounding especially banal over his band's trademark reggae-lite rhythm.

Johnson's love for his missus remains a constant theme, though setting the lilting album opener "I Got You" next to bossa-nova reverie "Do You Remember?" shows how little he has developed lyrically, with his earlier naive charm replaced by contentment's fuzzy glow. Multi-instrumentalist Zach Gill enlivens proceedings through comedy dancing and variety, moving from piano to vibes to an inspired melodica solo standing on his stool. Usually, though, such jaunty instrumental breaks fail to provide respite from the chilled vibes.

Bookending the night with solo spots, Johnson can still engage an amenable audience, as with the gentle chiding of reality TV on "Good People" or returning to his clarity of the crowd-pleasers, notably the whole-hearted devotion revealed in "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" and "Better Together", a number all the stronger for being kept away from adverts. The only surprise comes in "Tape Deck", when Johnson admits he used to play Fugazi covers. On this showing, he has moved from punk to appealing to hardcore fans.