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Friday, April 14, 2006

Surf music is not dead

Move over Frank Sinatra, there's a new chairman of the board--the surfboard that is.

When thinking about surfing and pop music, the first thing that comes to mind is early '60s teenage beach movies and the twangy, energetic surf-guitar sounds of Dick Dale, the Surfaris and the Ventures, or the tight harmonies of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Then along came Jack Johnson and everything changed.

Johnson is currently riding a wave of popularity worldwide with his laid-back, feel-good, roots-based beach sound built around simple acoustic guitar melodies and gentle, reggaelike rhythms. This wave will bring him to the shores of Japan for a one-night stand at Chiba's Makuhari Messe on Saturday.

Born and raised in Hawaii, Johnson was a professional surfer from the age of 16 until he moved to the mainland to study film at the University of California's Santa Barbara campus. From there, he went on to make a pair of award-winning surfing films before his musical career took off in 2001 with the sleeper hit "Brushfire Fairytales." Subsequent albums On and On in 2003 and last year's Between Dreams both entered the U.S. Billboard charts at No. 3, and his latest Curious George: Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies for the Film debuted at No. 1.

Johnson's seemingly effortless rise to fame came about almost by accident. While he had been playing guitar since he was 14, Johnson had never planned a career in music. He played in a punk band in high school and at occasional parties and college coffeehouses in Santa Barbara and used some of his own music in the soundtracks for his films, but never expected it to become a full-time job.

In 1998, while editing his film Thicker than Water, he met G. Love, whose music he had used in a film. The two hit it off and Johnson was invited to hang out at the studio the next day.

His visit to the studio culminated in his teaming up with G. Love and Special Sauce to record one of his own songs, "Rodeo Clown," which appeared on the band's 1999 album Philadelphonic.

At the urging of friends, Johnson recorded a four-track demo, which caught the attention of surfing buddy J.P. Plunier--the right-hand man of singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Harper.

Johnson signed with Harper's Enjoy Records in 2001 and Plunier produced his first album, which sold mainly on the strength of word of mouth starting in the surfing community, eventually moving 250,000 albums in its first year of release. U.S. tours with Harper followed, and by 2003 Johnson was headlining shows of his own.

No stranger to Japan, Johnson has been performing here since 2002, and his 2004 tour is the subject of a recently released DVD.

Johnson's success has helped launch careers among his surfing and singing comrades, notably Donavon Frankenreiter, whose debut came out on Johnson's own Brushfire Records label.

Saturday's show will be opened by Johnson's former U.C. Santa Barbara schoolmates the Animal Liberation Orchestra, an up-and-coming jam band whose 2005 independent debut Fly Between Walls--released last year in Japan--will be rereleased across the United States this month by Brushfire Records. The album contains a collaboration with Johnson, who provides the vocals on "Girl, I Want to Lay You Down."

Also on stage Saturday will be singer-songwriter Matt Costa, another artist debuting on Brushfire this spring in the United States and Japan.

Jack Johnson with guest Animal Liberation Orchestra will perform April 15, 6 p.m. at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, (0570) 08-9999; Animal Liberation Orchestra will also play April 14, 7 p.m. at Thumbs Up in Yokohama, (045) 314-8705.

(Apr. 13, 2006)

1 comment:

the rev. said...

Just to follow up, Mrs. Paperboy and I went to see Jack Johnson last night in Chiba. The opening band - Animal Liberation Orchestra - totally rocked. They were a great jam oriented four piece band: Guitar, bass, drums and a great keyboard player, and they all sang well. They sort of sounded like a cross between Phish and String Cheese Incident with some very Steely Dan-sounding keyboards thrown in. I do love the tone of a well played Fender Rhodes piano.

Jack Johnson was great. I didn't know how well his fairly intimate music would work in the big dark concrete box that is Makuhari Messe, but it worked pretty damn well. He put on a great two hour show, with lots of stuff from his first three albums, but not so much stuff from the Curious George soundtrack. All in all a fine evening.