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Taken from InTheMix (Friday, Aug 15, 2003)

Michael Franti & Spearhead

@ Joondalup Arena, Perth (12/08/03)

Reported on Friday, Aug 15, 2003. 15:54 by nojman

It takes a lot to get me out on a school night these days, let alone to trek to Joondalup to do it. But then again it's not everyday Michael Franti and his band Spearhead are in town, an act that last time I saw them play at Eclectic in Kings Park I described them to my friends in an email review at the time as "the closest thing I'd ever had to a religious experience". Something I still stand by to this day. On this night they showed every bit the form that won them my praises the first time around with the only thing not quite elevating the gig to the same status as before being some recurring sound problems throughout the night and the fact that no matter how good the venue it was never going to compete with Kings Park. In other words an awesome night, but a slightly less spiritual experience.

Promoters are starting to get creative with venues these days as they search for the perfect balance of accessibility, suitability and capacity. Venues such as Belvoir have had been marred by difficulty of access and limited facilities whilst inner city venues are restricted in layout and capacity. Whilst initially sceptical, upon arriving at the arena it seemed perfect. It was simply a long rectangular tent (running alongside the sports arena) equipped to hold around 4000 people. At one end was a raised stage for easy viewing wherever you stood, at the other was a bar. With gas furnaces firing away it was heated to a comfortable temperature so you could quickly shed the jacket you arrived in. Who would have thought you could have the vibe of an outdoor gig in them middle of winter?

In the centre of the room was the sound desk, at the back of which was a screen and more speakers to allow those up the back better viewing and hearing. Brilliant idea, unfortunately the aforementioned sound problems seemed to occur halfway through the show from the front speakers not being properly in balance with the back speakers and thus at times resulting in echoing effects. About halfway though the show those in front of the sound desk had trouble hearing Michael's words over the music whilst those at the back could hear the vocals dominating the music. That being said, not once did these ever affect the performance of the band.

First up on stage was local lad Mr Nathan Gaunt. Always impressive and energetic this talented Perth group already had the large crowd on its collective feet, clapping and singing along. Finishing to rousing applause and looking as happy to be there as the rest of us were, they exited, leaving the crowd visibly excited.

Downsyde hit the stage and were immediately greeted warmly by their hometown. Playing a more party set than usual they turned the place into just that - a party. Bringing Radioactive from Spearhead onto the stage to freestyle was a nice touch and gave everyone a buzz, including no doubt, the boys themselves, and had the crowd screaming. Dropping the radio friendly favourite Gift of Life in, finishing with El Questro (Always guaranteed to launch a sea of shakin bootys) and a funky medley including Michael Jackson, Thanking the crowd and leaving them perfectly hyped for what was to come Downsyde once again impressed and showed why they deserve that swag of Dance Music Award nominations!

When Spearhead walked on stage at 8.50pm the tent erupted in a united cheer. From the beginning it was clear it was a crowd who knew what to expect and were up for a good time. From the opening notes of What I Be, whether behind a guitar, with a tambourine in his hand or simply a microphone, Franti took to the stage like his feet were pogo sticks. As a frontman he has a presence that is a combination of charisma, passion and a genuine love for life and music. When he spoke people listened (when was the last time you saw a singer get 4000 people to sit down during a song and then straight back up into a dancing frenzy?). His energy was contagious and life affirming with his optimism and hope. His lyrics all have messages, whether political, spiritual or personal, but they are delivered with such sincerity that you actually listen and take note rather than immediate dismiss (as I am often prone to do when a singer starts getting preachy). Think Bono or Ben Harper and you will get some idea of the ball park I'm talking about, Franti just has ten times as much energy.

It was by no means just a one-man show with the band given plenty of time to shine. Sharing front stage with Franti for much of the show was beatboxer Radioactive who at times seemed to be providing more beats than drummer Manas Itene. Radioactives highlight was a 6 minute segment in the middle where he beatboxed everything from Metallica's One to Salt'n'Peppers Push It to an amusing version of a techno breakdown. When Franti yelled "BASSLINE" Carl Young would respond with a low rumbling funky lick humming through the speakers. The band was completed by Dave Shul on guitars, Roberto Quinta on percussion and Bob Crawford on keyboards. Some of the highlights were when the band played out well known songs such as Everyone Deserves Music and Sometimes into ten minute plus epics, giving the band chance to shine as they would go off on tangents, sample the likes of Hendrix or the Clash, before bringing it back to the original song for more.

The band covered most of their well known songs such as People in the Middle, Bomb the World to Pieces, Soulshine and Rock the Nation . Sound problems aside I don't know how anyone could have left disappointed. Everyone does indeed deserve music and Michael Franti is just the person to give to them.

"We can't stop because we love this life" (Michael Franti)

Special thanks to Megs for covering Nathan Gaunt and Downsyde who I unfortunately missed due to last minute work commitments. Make sure you check out her photo's HERE.


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