Jack Johnson has the clean-cut look of a youth minister and the voice of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis on tranquilizers. To people who remember Merriweather Post Pavilion from the days when Jackson Browne -- who seems like a punker by comparison -- recorded "The Load-Out/Stay" there, Johnson must have seemed like the same old same old on Friday night.
But the little girls understood -- shrieking and jumping as the competent, adequate "surfer-songwriter" and his band played song after mellow song. Johnson has adopted that rambling lyrical style perfected by Dave Matthews, who uses it with much more finesse. His disciple's songs meandered from one slightly appealing motif to the next, like a series of ring tones.
Johnson's songs aren't without a certain laid-back charm. "Banana Pancakes," in particular, with its Dixieland tipsiness stronger onstage than on the album "In Between Dreams," couldn't help but be appealing, even though its exhortation to "wake up slow" was somewhat nonsensical in the presence of thousands of enraptured screamers. And "Constellations" showed off Johnson's acoustic-guitar skills.
He makes far better musical sustenance for today's youth than those teen-movie idols out there masquerading as singers, and he seems too amiable to hate. But perhaps Merriweather should have barred admittance Friday to the chronologically disadvantaged.
-- Pamela Murray Winters