Jack Johnson commenced his 2017 tour, while simultaneously opening the music season at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, last night in Chicago. Though the Hawaiian vibes emanating from the acoustic melodies helped to offset the slight chill in the air, it also offered a campfire-like intimacy that inspired a sing-along for most of the evening. Johnson will offer an encore performance in the same venue tonight to a sold-out audience.
Opening night jitters were apparent when Johnson took the stage and immediately launched into the first verse of “Inaudible Memories,” before pausing with a chuckle and said, “I’m a little nervous, I forgot the intro, let’s start that over.” From there, it was mostly smooth sailing. Tight musicianship between Johnson’s fretwork and multi-instrumentalist Zach Gill on keys, while Adam Topol and Merlo Podlewski maintained a solid rhythm on drums and bass, respectively. Johnson’s voice was without flaw, delivering well-toned verses in his typical playful cadence that consistently hooked and captivated the crowd.
The musical (accompanied by possibly literal) highs included the troubadour’s breakthrough hit “Flake,” a spontaneous request for the upbeat “Rodeo Clowns,” plus the introduction of the brand new porch pop-styled “Big Sur” with Gill on melodica. That very player also strapped on an accordion come “Banana Pancakes,” which also featured his dare to Johnson (which was promptly accepted) to incorporate the first verse of Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker," further personifying the evening’s playful and light-hearted vibe.
Even show-opener Alfie Jurvanen, better known as Bahamas, got in on the action to assist on the low-key “Breakdown,” followed by a cover of Wreckless Eric’s quirky “Whole Wide World.” Speaking of remakes, the tone shifted towards good old fashioned blues and soul with the standard “Downtown Leroy Brown” which, combined with so many of Johnson’s many acoustic staples and the relaxed atmosphere, made Thursday’s soiree not just a pleasant start to this particular tour but also a joyful launch to an expansive summer of shows.