To promote his sixth studio album, Jack Johnson is taking a break from outdoor amphitheaters to play theaters, with fans scoring tickets by a lottery. But last night, he played an even smaller acoustic show for a crowd of 150 at New York’s Allen Room at Lincoln Center overlooking Central Park. “I’ll open my eyes soon,” Johnson told the audience with a grin early on, “but you have a lot of pretty things to look at anyway.”
The all-acoustic set had a back-to-basics feel after Johnson played Bonnaroo’s Saturday night headlining slot last week when Mumford & Sons canceled due to health reasons. It may have been small, but Johnson was still nervous. On Sunday, as he helped build a garden and picnic tables at New York’s Rockaway Beach to help with Sandy Relief, he told Rolling Stone he felt more pressure at the intimate shows show than the Tennessee mega-festival.
But Johnson loosened up. He discussed the making of his upcoming LP, From Here to Now to You, his first album since 2010’s To the Sea, revealing that the entire album is recorded in open B-flat tuning. His single “I Got You,” a spare ode to his wife Kim, debuted earlier this month, and last night’s live version felt arrestingly similar, testifying to the authenticity of Johnson’s vocals.
Johnson’s new tracks are stories like those his fans expect from him – campfire-ready love songs. But he still went deep. “Ones and Zeroes” is a haunting warning to future generations, discussing the environmental issues and addictions to technology, and the Beck-like “Shot Reverse Shot” is about “seeing things from the other side.” After leaving the stage, he returned for a two-part encore that included “Banana Pancakes” and Zach Gill’s “Girl I Wanna Lay You Down.”
The encores allowed Johnson and Gill a chance to goof around. Gill turned to the venue’s floor-to-ceiling windows and began an accordion solo that served as the intro to his quirky number (“‘Cause you’re smooth and creamy like peanut butter/Aw, girl I wanna lay you down,” they sang), and Johnson took the opportunity to wiggle around the show’s 9:30 end time. His audience thanked him with three standing ovations.
With an international tour on the horizon, Johnson seemed happy to have a moment for the Big Apple. When he played “Home,” he explained, “I’ve realized home is anywhere your family is. Tonight, this is our home.”