Jack Johnson gives Vancouver the perfect soundtrack to a summer day

Jack Johnson @ Deer Lake Park 23/7/17

Photo by Ryan Johnson
Photo by Ryan Johnson

What came first—blue skies, or Jack Johnson?

An outdoor concert is always a risky thing, but an outdoor concert in Vancouver is a flirtation with disaster. And yet, even with an overcast morning and all the indifference of the natural world, the skies were blue and the love was palpable on Sunday (July 23rd) in Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park.

Johnson briefly took the stage at the beginning of the evening to announce his opener, a folk musician from Oregon by the name of John Craigie. Whether the cheers were for the opener or for Jack’s mere presence, it hardly mattered. As soon as Craigie launched into his comedic listicle song “What Phase is This?”, singing “I went through my Lego phase…I went through my wanting to be a teacher phase,” the audience was hooked.

But it was Craigie’s witty stories between songs that really got the audience going. Poking fun at his California education, Craigie joked that “as a Math major from Santa Cruz, I did my thesis on infinity—it just goes on forever—blew the professor’s mind.”

The song “Pictures on my Phone” drew plenty of audience participation, priming the crowd which, at this point, was still largely snuggled up on the many blankets dotting the hill. Johnson took the stage and the blankets disappeared.

“We were gonna play another song, but then we thought, ‘cause it’s so sunny out…” Johnson trailed off before launching into “Hope.” Sounding as pitch perfect as he does on the radio, Johnson shifted immediately into “Staple it Together,” during which a lengthy piano solo from pianist Zach Gill whipped the audience up even further.

The third song, Johnson’s hit “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” had everyone singing as the netting over the stage undulated like the underside of a wave. With so much sunlight, the lighting and effects were tuned down to a bare minimum, but it didn’t seem to matter. Now and again, little puffs of smoke burst over the stage for a moment or two, but they quickly dispersed.

“Does it ever get dark around here?” Johnson joked.

Reinforcing the family friendly atmosphere of the concert, Johnson pointed out a few kids sitting on their parents’ shoulders before segueing into his smash hit “Upside Down” from the Curious George soundtrack.

But it wasn’t only the kids that got noticed. For his song “Banana Pancakes,” Johnson invited a couple dressed as bananas to join him onstage. After a brief period of swing dancing and twerking, Johnson laughed and invited them to “take their phallic selves back to the audience.”

At two hours on stage, Johnson slipped seamlessly from one reggae-infused song to the next, often without announcing the transition. But the audience never got lost, cheering for each new beginning before lapsing into lazy swaying and lyrical bursts whenever Gill got it in his head to move around the stage or stand on his piano stool.

When Johnson took the stage for the three songs of his encore, it was just him, his guitar, and the audience. Sharing tales of Willie Nelson giving him weed and robbing him blind at poker, Johnson confessed that his favorite thing was when people wrapped their arms around each other and swayed to the music at the end of a concert. As the rest of the band joined him onstage for the end of “Better Together,” it was impossible to tell what came first, the happy swaying, or the mention of it.