Taken from The Columbus Dispatch (October 1, 2009)
Franti & Spearhead: Eclectic mix makes for high moments
by Curtis Schieber - FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
"God is too big for just one religion," Michael Franti sang with his band Spearhead in the Newport Music Hall last night during East to the West. The tune followed a casual reading of the Motown classic Faded Love, itself a coda to Red Red Wine, a Neil Diamond song given new life decades ago by Brit reggae band UB40.
The line expressed Franti's mission with simple eloquence; most of the time the music gave it energetic, colorful life, highlighting the euphoria of communal celebration.
It helped that Franti's ensemble expertly covered a lot of territory, sometimes turning on a dime mid-song switching tempo and style.
Peter Tosh's soulful reggae skank (You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back morphed seamlessly into the Grateful Dead's Casey Jones. Rude Boys Back in Town butted up against Bob Marley's Stir It Up like the two songs were made to be joined.
Opening with A Little Bit Of Riddim, running headlong into Hello Bonjour and not breaking the beat for another few songs, the band not only kept the energy high from the first, but drove home its universalist message with ebullience and killer grooves.
Adding Franti's own alliterative lyrics to the fit-inducing beat of the Clash's The Magnificent Seven was not only a terrific scheme but one of the evening's highest moments. In a tradition that includes Detroit rockers the MC5, 1970s reggae masters and the ska revivalists of the mid-'80s, Franti delivered a potent political message in an addictive package.
Unsurprisingly, ranging without musical barriers produced aimless, lazy moments, as well. Franti brought out singer Trevor Hall, who opened the concert, for a duet on a song the two had just written the night before. Several false starts led to a rambling if friendly delivery of a song marked by a couple of nice verse lines and a utilitarian chorus.
Though Franti's motivations seemed as genuine as those behind the evening's strongest tunes, the song showed that the best intentions sometimes can run awry without a little oversight.
That was a minor glitch in an evening that made a fine party out of politics dedicated to the strength of community.