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Jack Johnson and Friends… at the Brisbane Riverstage.

As mentioned yesterday, on Sunday I headed across to the Brisbane Riverstage, for an evening with Jack Johnson, Matt Costa, and Will Conner. And – despite my longtime love affair with Jack Johnson, and my (extremely) tenuous connection with him via my friend Farryl Purkiss (Farryl and Jack once composed a song together, a fact that all of us local musos took pride in repeating… every chance we got) – this was to be my first time actually seeing him perform live.

Well, ok, that’s not strictly true. I had seen him perform live once before, with Ben Harper on his “Both Sides of the Gun” tour of 2007. In fact, it was at the very same stage, the Brisbane Riverstage. Jack was invited on stage to join Ben for a song, and, while for the life of me I can’t remember which tune it was now, I’m fairly certain it was for their rendition of “High Tide or Low Tide”. However, this was to be my first time watching him perform his own set, at his own concert. And I was certainly not disappointed.

There’s a lot to get through from the night, so I’ll just jump right in…

Will Conner and David Rastovich

Will Conner
Local boy Will Conner definitely impressed…

“We don’t need more stuff,
Just need each other and that’s enough”

– Will Conner, “Stuff”

As the sun started setting over the Riverstage, the first act came onto stage: Will Conner and David Rastovich. While I’d heard “Rasta” before, this was my first time hearing Will Conner, and I was really impressed. A local boy – well, Byron Bay local, anyway – I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about Will before. I mean, he’s also apparently toured with one of my absolute musical crushes, Tristan Prettyman, so it really was surprising.
Will’s tunes are pretty much what you would expect for an opening act for Jack. Laid-back, coastal tunes, which are extremely easy to groove to. Underneath, there’s a strong eco-conservation focus – in fact, this was true throughout the entire night – that was perfectly complemented by Will’s plaintive voice and Rasta’s awesome percussion. On that note, David Rastovich plays some of the best “cheek percussion” I’ve ever heard. Seriously.

Crowd at the Brisbane Riverstage
Crowd at the Brisbane Riverstage, as the sun was setting

“Is it easy to change the world?
Where do we sign up, to help change the world?”

– Will Conner, “Herd”

Perhaps the highlight of the set, for me at least, was Will’s tune, “Home”, describing Byron Bay. It’s a song that simply gets in your head. With it’s refrain of “Home is where I started from/And home is where I wanna be when I get old”, and imagery that I could really relate to, I was sold on this talent. While the recorded version has a fairly tame harmonica solo, in the live version Will was blowing an absolutely mean harp. Here’s to hearing more of this from Will.

Jack Johnson, Dave Rastovich & Will Conner
Dave Rastovich, Will Conner & Jack Johnson

Another high point of the set was when Jack Johnson was called up on stage to join both Will and David Rastovich for a medley of “Plastic Jesus” and “ Fall Line”. I was disappointed that they didn’t go into “Spring Wind”, as I was expecting, but it was still a great moment. The three seemed to have a real synergy up on stage, which was absolutely awesome to witness.

Below, the song, “Home”, by Will Conner. Listen. Love. Support.

Listen: Will Conner – Home

Matt Costa

Matt Costa
Matt Costa performed an incendiary set at the Riverstage

Next up on the bill was Matt Costa. Now, I’ve been a big fan of Matt Costa since the days I first heard his EP with “Astaire” on it, back in (I think) 2003, so I was pretty excited to see him perform live, as it was another first for me.
I think the one thing I was most surprised by was the absolute abandon with which Matt seems to play. From the first song, “Yellow Taxi”, with those opening lines of “Can you spare some conversation?” you could tell that the night with Matt was going to be interesting.
I don’t know what it was, but there seemed to be an underlying anger behind his performance on Sunday night. Sure, it was tempered in some songs – most notably in his performance of “Astaire”, which was as tender a rendition than I’ve ever heard – but the remainder seemed full with an energy that I didn’t expect from Matt.

“You gave me your word
Then you flew like a bird
Never looking back”

– Matt Costa, “Ballad of Miss Kate”

One song where this was most visible – and most welcome – was an absolutely incendiary version of “Ballad of Miss Kate”. Performed with more force than I’d heard before, the song was certainly a major highlight of the night for me, and I’ll remember it for a long time to come.

Following that was “Mr Pitiful”, which the crowd went absolutely crazy for. With Matt at the keyboard, jiving around as he pounded out the chords, he had thousands of people eating out of his hand, and clamouring for more. And rightly so. It’s a killer tune, and if the conversation around me was anything to go by, certainly gained Matt a lot of new supporters that night.
Next up? “Behind the Moon”. I can’t say much here. It was the one song (apart from “Astaire”) that I was really, truly praying he would play. He did. And it was everything I’d hoped for. Absolute bliss on my part. The problem was, it was so much bliss, I kind of blessed out after that, so the rest of the set passed in a blur for me.
I can say that, while I wasn’t previously a fan of “Cigarette Eyes”, I am now. “Lilacs” also was a cracking tune, and the closing song, “Emergency Call” went down extremely well, with more than a few people in the crowd yelling out “Doctor!” along with Matt… a perfect way to close a stellar set.

Matt Costa
Matt Costa on the Brisbane Riverstage

I was torn on which song to include for Matt, but ended up deciding upon “Ballad of Miss Kate”, from his “Elasmosaurus” EP. Listen. Love. Support.

Listen: Listen: Matt Costa – Ballad of Miss Kate

Traditional Blessing

Traditional Blessing
Before Jack came on, there was a traditional blessing of the concert.

After Matt’s set, and before Jack came on, there was the traditional blessing of the concert by a representative of the original aboriginal owners. I’ve been to countless concerts at the Riverstage before, but it was the first time I had seen this take place, and I thought was a great sign of Jack’s respect towards the land’s traditional owners.
The speech went on for a while, and there were a few concert-goers that complained at first; but after a while and everyone settled down, it became a really great experience. People were celebrating the diversity of the land, but also paying tribute to the tradition; and it set a great atmosphere for Jack to enter…

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson performed to a sell-out crowd at the Brisbane Riverstage.

After much – and I mean, much clamouring from the crowd… these guys were rabid – Jack Johnson came on to a roar of screams that were picked up by the stage microphones and broadcast around the arena. I almost felt like I was at some kind of boy-band concert… it was that kind of squeal. Responding with a casual grin and shrug, Jack and Co. launched right into a tune from the new “Sleep through the Static” album, “Hope”. I thought that the tune would be an interesting indicator of the night ahead; the reception to the new album in Australia so far has been fairly mixed. The supposed “older” crowd of fans seem to hanker for the Jack of old, while there is a whole new crowd of fans who have been attracted to the music.

There shouldn’t have been a question in my mind.

The crowd absolutely erupted. And you knew it was going to be a great night. There was a girl in front of me with “Your shadow walks faster than you” plastered all over her arms in permanent marker, and I honestly thought she was going to start hyperventilating when those first chords rang out.
As if reading my earlier thoughts, instead of continuing with another track from the new album, the band then went straight into “The Horizon has been defeated”, from the “On and On” album. And on this track, I managed to see what I had been hoping we would be privy to…

Zach’s chicken dance. And man, was he on fine chicken dance form that night.

Jackie J
Jack, Adam, Merlo and Zach on the Brisbane Riverstage

After a great performance of “Staple it Together”, the song “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” had the crowd screaming out the lyrics along with Jack, and it was a great feeling. In all of the live performances I’ve seen of Jack captured on video, he always seems to have the same reaction: an incredulous shake of the head, a little joyous laugh, and then picking it back up again. And it was great to be a part of that.

After that, it was back onto the new material: the single, “Sleep through the Static”, and then the song “Go On”, which Jack mentioned he had actually written on a previous plane trip to Australia… which of course the crowd responded to. “Go On” is a tune that I really like. The bass line, the melody, and obviously the lyrics… they all combine to create this really powerful, uplifting track about letting go, and it’s one that I’m sure will stand the test of time when it comes to Jack’s track record in the future.

After that it was back to the older stuff; “Taylor” which – as always – had the crowd surging and grooving; “Bubble Toes”, and then “Wasting Time”, which was one of the highlights of the night for me. There was a real conversation going on between the band and the crowd, and it really felt as if everyone knew it.

After that Jack invited Matt Costa and his guitarist, Mitchell Townsend back onto stage for “Let It Be Sung”, which appears on the “Brokedown Melody” soundtrack. Really, this should have been obvious, considering that Zach, Jack and Matt were all together, but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me. Needless to say, it was awesome. A lot of people have told me that they’ve struggled to find this song, so I’ve included it below.

After a Jane’s addiction cover (sorry, I’m not sure of the song’s title… if anyone else was there and knows, then drop a comment below), the band moved into “What You Thought You Need”, which Jack coupled with a very funny story about translation problems. Suffice to say, if a French speaking friend hadn’t stepped in, this song about Jack travelling in a van through Europe with his wife might have included a line claiming that a well-known “transvestite forest” held all the answers that Jack and his wife needed. Personally, I thought that would have been pretty cool, but each to their own. Heh.

Banana pancakes. Man, Zach excelled himself on this, his own song, not only in the absolutely killer accordian playing, but also in the dancing. The guy has this incredible energy about him that you simply cannot help but like; as if he’s the best friend you just haven’t met yet. So thanks, Zach, for giving that to us.

Jack Johnson & Co.
Jack Johnson & Co.

After “Banana Pancakes”, it was back to a new tune, with “Same Girl”, and then another trip back to the previous album with “Breakdown”. “Breakdown” was another song, much like “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing”, where the crowd almost drowned out the band with it’s singing.
Following that, there was a barrage of songs played, without much chatting between songs. The songs that followed were, “Good People”, “Monsoon”, “Mudfootball” (can I get a “hell yeah!”?), and “Flake” (again, another hell yeah. No matter how many times I’ve heard that song over the years, I needed to hear it live. And it was awesome). The final song, at least for the band as a whole, was the current single being played in Australia, “If I had eyes”… and the fact it was currently receiving a lot of airplay showed.
As Adam, Merlo, Zach and Jack raised their hands in goodbye, there was a real feeling of accomplishment in the air; and it was as if it had been accomplished together. And that’s always a sign of a great concert.

Jackie J & Co closing the set
Jackie J & Co closing the set

After the lights dimmed, and the obligatory “encore period” had elapsed, Jack came back on stage, solo, for an encore to close the show. With the backdrop changing to a “starry night”, Jack launched into a solo rendition of the first song off the new CD, “All at Once”. This song is easily my favourite off the new album. There’s just something that recalls the song, “It’s All Understood” to me. I mean, I have no idea why that is, and I can’t explain it at all, but it does. But I absolutely loved that song, so take it as a good thing.
After that was the bonus track off “Sleep Through The Static”, “Home”. I’m not a huge fan of this song, but my girlfriend is, and seeing as she was the one who managed to score us tickets, I was happy as a pig in mud with the choice.
Jack prefaced the next song by explaining that recently his son had asked him why everyone has a “mommy and daddy”. And Jack started to explain how a “mommy and daddy” have to create a child together. And when his kid, like all kids, pressed for more, Jack ended up spinning a long, nervous yarn about how we “multiply”.

“You’ve got to be careful when you’ve got good love,
‘Coz them angels will just keep on multiplying”

– Jack Johnson, “Angel”

And, as he said, really that’s what the song is about. Love and multiplication. The tenderness with which this song was performed had the crowd silent. And I mean silent. I’ve never heard that many thousands of breaths being held. But they were.

And then it was time to end. And what song did Jack end with? Another song for all the lovers out there, “Better Together”. It was a great song to cap off a great night, and a really positive feeling around the crowd.

Listen: Jack Johnson, Matt Costa and Zach Gill – Let it be Sung
Listen: Jack Johnson – All At Once

And that was it. So, for those keeping count out there, here’s the setlist:

  • Hope
  • Horizon has been defeated
  • Staple it together
  • Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
  • Sleep through the static
  • Go on
  • Taylor
  • Bubble Toes
  • Wasting Time
  • Let it be sung
  • Jane’s Addiction cover?
  • What you thought you need
  • Banana Pancakes
  • Same girl
  • Breakdown
  • Good people
  • Monsoon
  • Mudfootball
  • Flake
  • If I had eyes


  • All at once
  • Home
  • Angel
  • Better together

All in all, it was an amazing night.
Will Conner and David Rastovich definitely started it off on a great note (heh, no pun intended), and Matt Costa and band carried that through. And then Jack and Co themselves… well, I think that in terms of my reaction to the night, they were labouring under a huge amount of pressure. After all, the problem with being a fan of a musician for years, yet never managing to see them live, is that the expectations are raised higher and higher, for years on end. The one quibble that I suppose I might have with the night, is that it might have been too polished. When Jack and Co were up there, it was as if you were listening to the CD. Which is great, but at a live concert you’re also hoping to see a bit more adaptation… a bit more jamming, really. But again, that might be those damn lofty expectations again.

So, that said, did they meet those expectations? Hell no.

They passed them.


It’s been a crazy weekend…

… and, really, there won’t be many words today. But last night was an evening spent with Jack Johnson and Matt Costa, when they performed at the Brisbane Riverstage.

So tomorrow, there will be plenty, plenty more words. It’s going to take a while to marshall my thoughts about the night, so make sure you tune in tomorrow.

It was definitely awesome though.