Taken from The Orion Online (Sep 22, 2004)
Franti rules roost with positive vibes
by Austin Houlding Staff Writer
Michael Franti and his band Spearhead brought the positive attitude and solid sounds that fans have come to expect to the performance.
Like a tall prophet dressed in black, Michael Franti strode barefoot into the crowd gathered at the Bell Memorial Union auditorium to embrace his "people" before his band Spearhead took the stage last Thursday.
Smiling quietly beneath a tight bundle of dreadlocks, he wrapped his arms around one dazzled fan after another, whispering to them, "Peace be with you. Feel the music."
Franti later emerged onstage bathed in golden light with his band fanned out behind him.
The cheer from the crowd was deafening as he stepped to the microphone loosening his bundle of locks, letting his dreads fall around his shoulders.
There was a brief countdown, then Spearhead kicked into "Sometimes," Franti leaping joyously above a sea of outstretched arms.
The entire crowd from the stage to the door heaved to the music and would keep doing so throughout the night as Franti and company journeyed through their nearly three-hour set.
It was less a concert than a celebration.
The show opened shortly after 7 p.m. with the sweet ska sounds of Keyser Soze. Most notable of the Soze quintet was trombonist Jammal Tarkington, who managed a brassy, almost human voice from his instrument.
After an energetic set, frontman Rodney Teague stirred the crowd's enthusiasm for the upcoming Franti.
"We played a festival with these guys," Teague said, "and no disrespect, but Spearhead blew Ziggy Marley off the stage, yo!"
Franti embraces an excited audience with his reggae fusion at the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium Thursday.
Likewise, Spearhead blew everyone who's played the BMU in recent months out of memory.
Into the night, the blue-and-pink-lit stage seemed almost transformed into Franti's personal throne.
And like disciples of his grand persuasion, the audience members lost themselves in flailing leaps and silly dances.
Guitarist Dave Shul had a commanding presence during climbing solos that seemed to amaze even Franti.
And the rest of Spearhead was in rare form as well; Carl Young on the bass, Manas Itene on the drums, Roberto Quintana on percussion and Anthony Robustelli on keys functioned like the sonic limbs of one musical entity.
Spearhead catered to the crowd with favorites like "Soulshine," "What I Be" and "Yell Fire," where Franti, twirling with his arms stretched, directed the audience to "sing in your best Julie Andrews voice 'The streets are on fire with the sound of music.'"
Spearhead also incorporated revved renditions of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" and Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up."
"Don't give up the fight, Chico," Franti yelled, fist raised.
Political moments surfaced during songs like "Yens and Euros" where Franti asked, "A new president, will he make a difference, or just yens, and euros, and dollars and cents?"
And during a portion, the lights dimmed and the band exited the stage leaving Franti standing in the eerie blue with an acoustic guitar. With soft trickling strums he told a story about a recent trip to Baghdad.
"I said 'I came as a tourist' and they looked at me strange," Franti said. "So I went into the streets to play guitar for anyone who'd listen: American soldiers, kids in hospitals with their legs blown off -- I played for the people."
Franti's recollections of war-torn Iraq rolled through the audience, as lighters were raised and curls of pungent smoke drifted overhead.
"I found that the people we're occupying in Iraq," Franti said, "want the same thing the American soldiers in Iraq do. They just want to come home."
Franti capped the night with "Never Too Late," getting every member of the audience to link arms and sing along.
"Don't fear your best friends/ because a best friend would never try to do you wrong," Franti sang.
"And don't fear your worst friends/ because a worst friend is just a best friend that's done you wrong," the conjoined audience sang back.
Before his farewell, Franti thanked the sponsors of the night's show.
"It's not Ford, and it's not Microsoft and it's definitely not Budweiser," Franti said, and then hesitated. "It's the good people of Chico! Thank you!"
Spearhead took a bow, its tall prophet dressed in black glowing in the middle. As people filed out, the air was heavy with breath and perspiration and a noticeable electricity of joy and community.
At one particularly magical moment in the performance, during the song "Yes I Will," Franti asked the audience how many had been to a Spearhead show.
After the hands were raised, Franti said smiling warmly, "Those of you who've been here...welcome home. For you first timers...welcome to the family."