Jack Johnson is too low-key to brag, but the sleepy-voiced singer and songwriter seems well aware of the effect his music can have on the opposite sex. "I wrote this song when I was trying to get this girl one time," he said to introduce "Bubble Toes" Friday night at Comcast Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, where he opened his North American tour supporting To the Sea with a 25-song set. A few bars into the song, he leaned back into the microphone and finished the story almost offhandedly: "I ended up getting her, too."
The quick anecdote was one of just a handful of interactions with the 20,000-strong crowd. Mostly, Johnson let his songs stand on their own as he ambled unhurriedly through selections from all five of his studio albums and a handful of other projects. Dressed in jeans and a loose T-shirt bearing an Easy Star Records logo, Johnson switched between electric and acoustic guitars on mellow pop songs that veered into light, lilting reggae backbeats and sometimes tilted every so slightly toward the blues.
Johnson isn't a flashy player: his most prominent guitar-hero moment came early in the show when he took a solo that consisted of patting the strings with an open palm for a rich, gluey sound on "Go On." He's not a flashy showman, either: backed by keyboards, bass and drums, Johnson and the band played in muted light, with soothing abstract images in deep reds and watery blues scrolling slowly by on a semi-circular video screen at the back of the stage.
Johnson turned the second half of the show into a series of collaborations. Hawaiian musician Paula Fuga joined him to sing and play ukulele on her song "Country Road." Dan Lebowitz of opening band ALO added lap-steel guitar to Johnson's 2001 hit "Flake" and an acoustic guitar solo to "Breakdown." And G. Love (who performed an opening set of solo blues tunes, without Special Sauce) came out to sing with Johnson on "Rodeo Clowns," a song they did together on G. Love's 1999 album Philadelphonic. After G. Love popped up again to add harmonica on "At or With Me," the last song of the main set, Johnson finally took a moment to own the stage alone, returning solo for a beautifully understated four-song encore.
"You and Your Heart"
"If I Had Eyes"
"Sitting, Waiting, Wishing"
"To the Sea"
"From the Clouds"
"My Little Girl"
"Country Road" (with Paula Fuga)
"Turn Your Love" (with Paula Fuga, Dan Lebowitz)
"Breakdown" (with Dan Lebowitz)
"Flake" (with Dan Lebowitz)
"Rodeo Clowns" (with G. Love)
"Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology" (with G. Love)
"Staple It Together"
"At Or With Me" (with G. Love)
"Do You Remember"