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Taken from CANOE -- JAM! Music (July 10, 2006)

Live Review: Michael Franti in Ottawa

Michael Franti preaches to the converted


Michael FrantiOTTAWA - They should call it the Michael Franti and Spearhead Experience.

Surely last night's San Francisco-based Bluesfest headliner gave more than a concert, with the tall, charismatic, butterscotch-voiced anthemist getting thousands of hands clapping overhead within minutes of taking the Festival Plaza stage.

Franti, with his dreadlocks flying about and bare feet pounding, turned his perch into a pulpit -- a politically, socially and racially uplifted pulpit, of course -- and kept it that way all night.

The crowd, clearly among the converted, ate it up, singing along to songs from his new album, Yell Fire! as though they'd been doing it for years.

Franti launched into his show with timely tunes.

The anti-war Time To Go Home exhibited that rich, full, Spearhead sound, followed by the rappish, catchy title track.

It was pure entertainment throughout, meandering through much-loved favourites, like the danceable Soulshine, from 2001's Stay Human, to sweet new tunes, like the reassuring Sweet Little Lies.

Franti and the band gave each song a full, deep treatment, keeping the audience hanging on through lengthy versions of the lilting Yes I Will, with the impossibly giddy back beat from 2003's Songs From the Front Porch, and the funky rap/acoustic, lyrical prayer that formed another new tune, East to West.

It was a much different, stripped-down story for Ani DiFranco, the raw, 36-year-old Buffalo-born 1990s cult heroine who opened for Franti.

She delighted with off-the-cuff stories making fun of Americans and slagged President George W. Bush between songs. Dwarfed by her acoustic guitar, DiFranco's clear, sweet vocals provided a bright contrast to her signature percussive guitar playing.

There was lots in the 90-minute set from her prolific, hardcore past, like Shameless from 1996's chart-registering Dilate, and the title track to 1998's Little Plastic Castle. The set also borrowed from her latest release Reprieve, with the confident DiFranco holding the crowd as she lilted out tunes like the tart Half-Assed.

Local girls paved the way for the evening's mainstage entertainment. The Amanda Rheume Band had to compete with the World Cup's tense last moments on screens inside City Hall, but blues guitarist/singer Sue Foley soon had the gathering crowd's full attention.

Foley played an hour-long set borrowing heavily from her latest release, New Used Car. The raspy, powerful singer with the plaintive chords shone on the sweet love song Little Things and the rambunctious, upbeat ditty Sugar.


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