Not even a two-hour weather delay could sour the mood at Thursday night’s performance by Jack Johnson and special guest Ziggy Marley. The crowd filed in after being told to wait in their vehicles until the booming storm clouds passed and those who had been huddled under the canopy of the iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre picked up their folding chairs and moved out to the sold-out lawn seats. The “ooh”s and “ah”s at the crackling sky soon gave way to an ecstatic roar when Ziggy Marley at last made his way to the stage.
The crowd had waited long enough, so without further ado Marley jumped right into “Tomorrow People” from his 1988 Grammy-winning album, Conscious Party. Multi-colored light poles scattered across the stage rhythmically flashed green, red and yellow as the melody maker of reggae royalty grooved through his set list, which included a cover of his father’s “Get Up Stand Up” (to which the crowd obliged) and the soulful reggae-pop ballad “Beach in Hawaii,” which had the whole audience singing along. The true standouts of the performance, though, might just have been Marley’s background singers, whose rousing rap verses electrified muscles atrophied by the long wait time. After playing his new single “The Lucky One” (dedicated to his wife, Orly), Marley closed out his roughly 35-minute set joined by two of his children who added some endearing kiddie dance moves to a spirited performance of “Look Who’s Dancin’.”
Marley’s performance had zapped any languor from the crowd by the time Jack Johnson took the stage at 10:30. He took a brief moment to apologize for the inclement weather before playing “If I Had Eyes” to kick off a truly mesmerizing set with stand-out instrumentals from the band, hits both classic and new, and a few amusing anecdotes peppered between and within songs.
Johnson’s stop in West Palm Beach was the 14th on the American leg of his 2022 Meet the Moonlight tour promoting the eponymous album that dropped in June of this year. While much of the performance comprised classic tracks (including a heartfelt rendition of “High Tide or Low Tide,” for which he brought Ziggy Marley onstage to perform), a few songs from his latest release were played early on, including “One Step Ahead”.
The stage effects for most of the show were a pleasant complement to the music, with a giant half-circle displaying a rotating cast of shots featuring pattering raindrops, drifting clouds and green isles afloat a shimmering sea, but at times the stage lights glowed so bright that many in the crowd had to briefly shield their eyes. But the overstimulation was quickly forgiven by the crowd that was singing along, clapping and slow-dancing through some of the favorites from Johnson’s 20-year-plus catalog.
If there’s a single aspect of Johnson’s performance that deserves a particular shout-out, it has to be keyboardist Zach Gill. For most of the set, Gill was standing at the keyboard hammering the keys like a man possessed and adding a soulful jive swing to classic hits like “Sitting Waiting Wishing.” In addition to his unforgettable keyboard prowess, Gill also stood out with solos on both the accordion and melodica, the latter of which he performed during a medley of “Bubble Toes” and the eternally singalong-friendly “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band.
Jack Johnson’s music is appealing for anyone who’s enjoyed sitting with friends around a campfire. His acoustic rhythms, simple yet endearing lyrics and joyful delivery make any gathering feel just a bit more intimate and enjoyable. This feeling permeated the entire set, from “Never Know” about accepting life’s uncertainty to “Breakdown” about seeing your way through hardship. The crowd’s enthusiasm seemed to build ever-higher with each song, and so did Johnson’s. For a musician who’s been performing for nearly 30 years, he plays with the passion of someone who just picked up a guitar for the first time. His love for his craft couldn’t be more evident than when he took to the stage for the show’s encore.
The audience didn’t have to wait long after Johnson left the stage before he returned, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. With no other instruments, Johnson reminded the audience of the small, personal scale that first made his music so lovable. Starting the encore with a beautiful performance of “Do You Remember” about meeting his wife of 29 years, he also played the Jimmy Buffett favorite “A Pirate Looks at 40,” and told the story of when Jimmy Buffett came to his house and Johnson’s babysitter, expecting the plumber, directed the Margaritaville King to the bathroom to fix a clogged toilet. To cap off the night, Johnson closed with “Better Together,” and the whole audience joined in singing along.