A Weekend at the Greek/Jack Johnson and Friends DVD Review

March 26th, 2006
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Jack Johnson’s debut DVD, A Weekend at the Greek/Jack Johnson and Friends, includes two discs of two concerts and countless interviews and stolen moments. A Weekend at the Greek (disc 1) was filmed on August 19th and 20th at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre during the In Between Dreams Tour, and Live in Japan (disc 2) was shot in August 2004 during the On and On Tour. While both films center around live concerts, the show at the Greek takes the form of a documentary, while montages of scenes captured in Japan compliment the second film.Greek opens with Jack Johnson singing under a tree. This intimate moment cuts to introductions of the band. Drummer Adam Topol is included in both concerts and also played with Johnson in the Sprout House Band on Sprout: Official Soundtrack. Bassist Merlo Podlewski plays in both live shows as well. Joining the group for In Between Dreams is Zach Gill from Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) playing piano and accordian. Commentary includes a discussion of how Johnson and Gill met and started playing together.

Opening the concert is “Never Know,” from In Between Dreams. In contrast to Johnson’s relaxed vocals the music is stiff and carbon-copied from the album. The bulk of the solo Johnson jams are unwavering from the album. Little to no liberties are taken in the single verse solos offered to the musicians. One musical highlight is Johnson singing “Sitting Waiting Wishing” backwards, explaining that he had to perform the song that way for the making of the video.

Mixed in the shuffle of live music on disc one is considerable commentary. Topics covered include inspirations for various lyrical topics, how covers are selected and incorporated in set lists and several guest stars discussing Johnson’s musical style and why they enjoy playing with him. The mix of commentary and solid music makes for a good sell, however the pseudo-documentary created by this shuffling can be a bit of a bore.

Guest appearances include Money Mark, G. Love, ALO, Matt Costa, and Donavan Frankenreiter throughout the 2-disc set. G. Love performs “Rodeo Clowns” with Johnson. Although written by Johnson, G. Love first recorded the song on the 1999 release of Philadelphonic.

Japan differs musically and compositionally. A much more humble and reserved Johnson is featured on the second disc, which includes more musical variation. The track names are disguised matching the scenic segments inserted throughout (”Banana Pancakes” is under the track “The Train to Osaka”).

A Weekend at the Greek/Jack Johnson and Friends is a multifaceted work likely to please any fan. Greek is very true to the albums even with the added thrill of guest musicians. Japan is a more subtle, modest collection that shouldn’t be missed. All of this in addition to the interviews and inner workings of the group provide a worthwhile buy.

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By Jeanette Honig Posted in Features