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Taken from JamBase (Feb 26, 2009)

Fox Opening

Trombone Shorty, Social D, Franti and ALO celebrate Oaktown's brand new Fox, we get the scoop...

by Greg Keidan | Images by: Josh Miller

Saturday | 02.07.09 | Jam Fans Invade

Michael Franti
ALO :: Fox Theater

Saturday evening at The Fox was the event that I and other jam band fans were anxiously awaiting. Local favorites ALO and Spearhead sold out the show almost a month in advance, and they did not disappoint the packed house of appreciative hometown fans, putting on an inspired, high energy show.

I wondered ahead of time how the operators of such an ornate, beautiful and expensively restored venue would react to an invasion of modern day hippies. Other than a perfunctory pat down at the door, this was as kind and welcoming a venue as any I'd ever encountered. I didn't see anyone get hassled by the friendly staff, and psychedelic icon and East Bay resident Wavy Gravy was in attendance and told me he had a blast.

The show started out with a short set from Orlando's Solillaquists of Sound, a diverse hip-hop/electronica act on the same label as Spearhead, featuring great beats and a nice mix of male and female vocalists. I picked up their 2006 release As If We Existed after the show, and I have been enjoying their politically conscious, jazzy hip-hop beats and lyrics since.

Next up was ALO, who opened with the appropriate crowd pleaser "Barbecue." The show kicked off a weeklong benefit tour of California for Music in Schools Today by the band. Bay Area fans were excited to see this local favorite, whose members have been spending a good deal of time with other projects lately and only came together for special occasions last year like Outside Lands Festival, Las Tortugas Festival, two nights at The Independent for New Year's and Jam Cruise 7 (presumably because keyboardist/vocalist Zach Gill has been busy working with Jack Johnson, and who can blame him? Cha-Ching!). "This place feels like a shining ray of hope coming into the Bay Area and I'm proud to be a part of it. Score one for Oakland!" said Gill from the stage.

The dance floor was packed for ALO's entire set, which also included "All Alone," "Plastic Bubble" and "Maria" from their 2007 album Roses and Clover, a funny new one from Gill's solo album Stuff called "Don't Touch My Stuff," and "Walls of Jericho" featuring Dave Brogan on vocals as well as drums. But, the highlight was a cover of an Allen Toussaint song made famous by The Pointer Sisters in 1973, "Yes We Can Can."

"That one felt really good in light of the recent election," said bassist Steve Adams. "It was really special and exciting to be there for the opening weekend. The energy of being there was fresh and everyone was figuring it out as they went." Adams lives a few blocks from The Fox in downtown Oakland, and he is excited to see the area being revitalized and to have such a majestic music venue close to home. He told me that many area musicians have a lot of faith in Another Planet Entertainment, who he says have a reputation for treating their artists well and having solid values. The small company has also garnered respect for taking on Live Nation. "I love playing at The Independent and the Greek Theatre [two other venues managed and booked by Another Planet], so I will always support them and I was very excited to be asked to be a part of this event," said Adams.

I asked Adams to share any ALO related scoops with their JamBase Fans, and I'm happy to report that the band plans to tour more this year (they will probably return to High Sierra) as Jack Johnson is taking some time off from the road, and ALO is planning to release a new album late in 2009. Dan "Lebo" Lebowitz hopes to release a solo album this spring, and Adams' other project, Big Light, is recording an album with production assistance from Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips.

Michael Franti
Cherine Anderson :: Fox Theater

Next up was a surprise - a melodramatic offstage voice announced a special additional opening act, vocalist Cherine Anderson, a Kingston Jamaica native who is featured on Spearhead's 2008 release All Rebel Rockers. Anderson started with "Redemption Song" and sang a couple more tracks to a backing soundtrack. She has a great voice but the vibe was a little cheesy ("Let me see your lighters in the air!") until she brought Oakland born Michael Franti and his band Spearhead to the stage for "Everybody Ona Move," which I love even if it kind of sounds like it was written for a cell phone commercial. The packed house was instantly jumping on command, screaming and singing along. Next up was "Hello Bonjour" and then "Time to Go Home," two upbeat songs from Yell Fire that had the crowd rapt. Anderson returned on backup vocals for "Rude Boys" and "Little Bit of Riddim," two strong tracks from Rockers, and she stayed for the rest of the two hour set. I thought her powerful vocals and sexy feminine presence provided a strong counterpoint and balance to Franti's masculine command of the stage.

Michael Franti
Spearhead :: Fox Theater

Franti broke out a couple of older tunes for those of us who loved him before the Playstation 3 commercial, playing "Everyone Deserves Music" and then "Ganga Babe," featuring guest vocalist Azeem, a former Spearhead member and talented Oakland resident. Then it was back to the new material with "All I Want Is You," "I Know I'm Not Alone" and "Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong," this last really showcasing Anderson's powerful vocals.

Franti's set encompassed a full range of emotions, and although the unfinished sound system didn't always make it easy to hear what he was saying in some of the quiet moments between songs, he talked about how putting his 20-year-old son on a Greyhound bus across the country inspired "I Got Love for You," playing a poignant version with longtime collaborator Jay Baum on guitar. Franti also talked about being at the Presidential Inauguration and singing, "Na na, hey hey, goodbye!" with thousands of people to President Bush.

Much of Saturday's show felt like a celebration of the end of the Bush era and the hope that many of us feel with the election of Barack Obama. For me, the high point of the set and the whole weekend was when Spearhead brought a bevy of guests to the stage during the encore, including members of Solillaquists of Sound, for "Obama Song." I saw him play this celebratory anthem on Jam Cruise 7 with a trio, but it made a much bigger impact with the full band and guests. I finally felt like I was at a party worthy of the huge historical significance of my country electing the black son of an African immigrant to be president. YES WE DID!

Will Oakland's $75 million dollar investment pay off? It's a risky time to start a new business as we face the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Just about every week I notice another shop that's closed its doors. But now more than ever, people are in need of a great place to forget their troubles, celebrate and let loose. Just as our new president is hoping an economic stimulus package will revitalize our nation, the city is hoping that this investment in the performing arts will revitalize a downtown that badly needs it.

"Hopefully the prosperity that passes through here will ripple through other businesses in the area, as well as lifting the spirit of the community," Franti said backstage after the show. Azeem added, "The people need this. All they do otherwise is go home and watch TV and get scared or frustrated or lulled into being sheep. They need places to go to be inspired and healed, and that is what this place represents for Oakland."


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