Taken from EARVOLUTION (Nov 16, 2006)
Power To The Peaceful
Michael Franti & Spearhead Light Up New York
by David Schultz
If you didn't know any better, you would think, based on the number of times Michael Franti asks his audience "How you feelin'?" that the dreadlocked singer has a raging problem with insecurity. The phrase has become so synonymous with Franti's live shows that his fans have created a drinking game around his catch phrase, sipping or finishing their drink whenever it's asked. Franti's heard of the game and has been known to get his fans sloshed. Exuding confidence in his ability to enthrall and entertain a crowd, Franti didn't abuse his signature phrase during his Veterans' Day show at New York City's Webster Hall. Although whenever he did ask, he received a rousing affirmation that yes, the crowd was feeling pretty damn good.
With his dreadlocks flying to and fro, Franti literally bounced around the stage with a boundless energy, inspiring the audience to jump and move throughout the entire show. Leaving the music primarily to his Spearhead band mates, bassist Carl Young, guitarist Dave Shuh and drummer Manas Itene, Franti played some rhythm guitar while playing a two hour set focused on Yell Fire!, his latest release of populist anthems. Franti persuasively gets across his powerful activist ideals through simple expressions: the music is not incredibly complex, incorporating many reggae beats; the messages aren't expressed in convoluted language, gaining poetic strength through their simplicity; and the feelings Franti invokes often tap into your most basic childish memories, only the grinchiest of souls could fail to enjoy the band's brief segue into Sesame Street's theme song and Franti's Cookie Monster growl through "C Is For Cookie."
It's near impossible to not have a great time at a Michael Franti & Spearhead concert. Franti's "power to the peaceful" philosophy and worldview permeate the music and his shows thrive with an uplifting, life affirming vibe. While Franti's opinions are hardly veiled, they transcend political parties and religious affiliations; he focuses on the similarities amongst us all that go beyond nationalities, ideologies and cultures. In fact, during one song Franti exclaims that God is too big a concept for just one religion. Having recently spent more than a year in some of the most dangerous territories in the Middle East, a trip captured in the documentary I Know I'm Not Alone, Franti's not shy about proselytizing his hopes and prayers for peace. His Veterans' Day suggestion was that the best way America could support their troops overseas would be to bring them home where they can be safe with their families. While he doesn't hide his distaste for the war in songs like "Yell Fire" and the anti-recruitment "Light Up Your Lighter" or his pleasure over the recent elections, Franti leaves the serious politicking out of his music. In song, Franti speaks often of the unifying strength of love and before "One Step Closer" accentuated his most heartfelt message, treasuring the friends in your life. It's no small feat that Franti & Spearhead's relatively early Saturday night set seemed to raise everyone's spirits. As they do with every show, they mixed the right amounts of Sixties-style spirit with modern day beats, managing to convey a message while keeping everyone joyously grooving.