EmptyUCLA Intramural Field, Westwood (Sunday, Aug. 31)
Mellow music king Jack Johnson gave summer a gentle sendoff Sunday, turning a massive stage at UCLA's Intramural Field into a beachfront shack. All that was missing was the sound of rolling waves and grains of sand, though some women kicked off shoes or sandals to dance slowly on the grass anyway.
The antithesis of rock star ego, the Hawaiian surfer-filmmaker-troubadour has home-grown a large following, filling arenas and sheds with his mostly acoustic-based folk-pop and reggae lite style with a touch of jam-band noodling.
This outdoor gig fit the Labor Day weekend vibe: The crowd of 17,000 or so included coed couple college fans and families with young children, the latter thanks to Johnson's kid-friendly tunes, especially his "Curious George" soundtrack hit "Upside Down."
The set also featured such favorites as the sly "Flake" and the silly-romantic "Bubble Toes," first in its original, sung-from-a-hammock acoustic form, then shifting into scratchy soul-funk.
Despite his general laid-back mode, Johnson's themes aren't all whimsical, as in the title song to this year's album "Sleep Through the Static," with such socio-political lines as, "Who needs please when we've got guns?/Who needs peace when we've gone above/But beyond where we should have gone?" He might be a nice guy, but he's not vapid -- far from it.
So while the show lacked heat, it's tough to dismiss Johnson completely. Although he never strays from that soothing comfort zone, he's a solid songwriter; he just needs more range.
The night's support bands included Oakland indie-pop outfit Rogue Wave, which is signed to Johnson's Brushfire label; group frontman Zach Rogue joined him for a number during the headlining set.