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Taken from Independent.ie (July 01, 2009)

Review: Michael Franti and Spearhead

Vicar Street, Dublin

by Joe McNamee

Michael FrantiMICHAEL Franti has jumped off more than a few cliffs in his career.

He broke up his first group, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, at the height of their early 90s' success, fearing they were about to become an out-of-control commercial juggernaut.

Several years ago, he dodged bullets and kidnappers to shoot a gripping documentary about musicians in Iraq.

At Vicar Street, this penchant for taking risks is once again on full display -- the Spearhead leader flirts with cheesiness by dropping uber-naff snatches of Madness and Soft Cell into a sequence of open-ended jams (did nobody tell him the guilty pleasure vogue ended, like, five years ago).

Standing at over six-feet tall, he's got a big heart to match his huge frame and can't resist recklessly pouring it out for the benefit of his public.

Strangely, Franti's songbook might be the least dangerous thing about him.

At the head of Spearhead, he presides over a free-wheeling, feel-good operation, plying a watered- down melange of reggae, power-pop and roots music.

One moment he's channelling fellow Bay Area group Counting Crows, the next he's a training- wheel Bob Marley.

If you are in the mood -- and on an oppressively humid Monday night a surprisingly large number of Dubliners are -- it's all perfectly joyous.

It's also completely lacking in edge.

Still, waxing sentimental without lapsing into stomach-turning corn-ball can be a big ask and Franti, joined by backing vocalist Cherine Anderson, plus a singing drummer, bassist and guitarist, gets the balance mostly right.

Introducing a ballad dedicated to his son (who, unbelievably, is 21), he asks the audience to remember a loved one far away or recently departed.

On paper, it's an eye-rolling moment yet Franti sounds so sincere your cynicism turns to mush.

It helps that the tune is a marvellously light-footed dirge, dewy with emotion and shot through with decency and optimism.

Ultimately, it's his ability to sing from the core of his being without coming on like a hopeless drip that makes Franti such an engaging and enduring entertainer.

CSN open with 'Helplessly Hoping', the 'Three Together' song.

The choice is seen by some fans as thumbing the nose at the missing Neil Young with whom CSN were once CSN&Y.

Many deem Young's subsequent career as proof positive that David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash are nothing without their missing 'Y chromosome'.

But none of those doubting Thomases are here tonight.

This crowd, many well past the first flush of middle age, clearly recall a time when Young was merely a quirky and often querulous adjunct to one of the original supergroups.

If nothing else, they are survivors: 40 years on the road.

Stills and Crosby, in particular, are somehow still standing after titanic struggles with substance abuse and enough medical ailments to bury a battalion.

Which may explain a certain lack of vigour.

During 'Our House', Crosby lounges with hands in pockets, as if waiting for the bus.

During a perky cover of The Grateful Dead's 'Uncle John's Band' -- a tribute to the late Jerry Garcia -- Crosby, instigating a clap-along, can barely raise his hands above his sternum.

The once handsome Stills, wobbling on creaky hips, making hard work of beating up his guitar, could pass for Van Morrison's belligerent younger brother.

With his tidy demeanour and north of England burr, Nash could be the genteel entertainments officer at a holiday camp.

He gently shepherds Stills and Crosby through the opening exchanges. He also makes a decent hand of his own song, 'Cathedral'.

But the hits keep coming.

"Stephen writes fantastically good rock songs, Nash writes the anthems -- and I write the weird shit!" says Crosby and the increasing waves of enthusiasm from the floor has a defibrillating effect.

Stills comes to terms with his guitar and blisters his way through 'Wooden Ships' as Crosby digs deep and somehow finds the strength to unleash those massive tonsils of yore.

The final encore of 'Teach the Children' is returned in kind from the floor with a near note- perfect bellowing of the chorus.


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