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Taken from SoundSpike (September 24, 2010)

Concert Review: Michael Franti & Spearhead in San Diego

by Roy El Saghir

Michael FrantiMichael Franti & Spearhead delivered a soulful and raucous performance at the House of Blues in San Diego Thursday night (9/23).

In a summer that has condemned many an artist to playing half-empty venues or canceling dates altogether, Franti and his excellent backing band transformed the venue into a sweltering sweatbox that was packed to a painful level of capacity. Judging from the lines of ticketless folks abandoned outside, they could have easily played a much bigger house. Note to booker, next time pick a bigger venue, Franti has clearly graduated to the big leagues.

6-foot-6 and militantly barefoot, Franti is an imposing and endearing philosopher. The most cynical bastard can't help but be won over; such is the power of Franti's charisma. Franti brought fans on stage, ventured into the crowd, got on his soapbox for some social activism, and finished the show surrounded by 60-year-olds while four women interpreted his lyrics via sign language. The nearly two-hour set brought the crowd from a simmer to a rolling boil and left them spent and sated.

Concentrating on material predominantly from 2008's "Rebel Rockers" and this summer's "The Sound of Sunshine" Franti and his cohorts have transformed themselves over the past few years. No longer one dimensional, there are hints of organic soul, reggae and even anthemic U2-style arena rock within the set. "I'll be Waiting" could have been the 12th track on "The Joshua Tree." "The Thing That Helps Me Get Through" is the kind of track that Lenny Kravitz and Andre 3000 have been trying to write for years. "Gloria" was played with all the rollicking soul of a timeless gospel standard and "Shake It" had all ladies in the house jiggling their feminine wares. "Hello Bonjour's" message of unity transformed the entire crowd into a soccer stadium, chanting "Hello, hello, bonjour, bonjour, hola, hola, konnichiwa, konnichiwawa!"

Originally reggaefied, "Sweet Little Lies" got country fried as Franti augmented the band with a fiddle player and rolled into a two-step as good as any this side of Nashville. From there he took his gang into a delightfully sloppy version of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" and back again.

Crowd pleasers such as his current single "The Sound of Sunshine" and "Say Hey (I Love You)" came across as pure top-down convertible driving-along-the-beach confections. "Sound of Sunshine" has such an infectious chorus that it will undoubtedly be incorporated into a beer or car commercial within six months from now. Hey, a brother has to get paid.

Once more known for sets comprised of stirring hip-hop oriented socio-political anthems, this tour concentrated on songs with sunshine in lieu of darkness. Alas, with his new emphasis on bringing the party, stalwarts such as "Hole in the Bucket" and the emotive protest anthem "Bomb the World" were sadly absent from the set list.

Back in the day, Franti came across as a West Coast version of Chuck D, hammering socio-political rhymes across thundering industrial beats. But wisdom and experience have matured and altered his approach as a songwriter. Once dedicated to exposing ugly truths, Franti has chosen to concentrate on delivering messages of hope instead. Always a phenomenal lyricist, Franti has transformed himself into an organic songwriter ala Jack Johnson. He reels his audience in with lazy summer jams, making you sing along subconsciously, slyly dropping knowledge by osmosis. That said, one has to question whether the messages of love and unity had much impact on some of the Pabst-swilling, douche bag frat boys within the crowd, but unfortunately, you can't necessarily choose your audience.

In closing, one could not help but notice the lack of African-American faces within the crowd. It is puzzling to see the black community ignore a black artist that carries a torch for all that is beautiful about black music and its traditions. Instead of embracing a brother who continues to blaze a trail first tread upon by legends such as Gaye and Marley, black radio prefers saccharin R&B and insipid krunk. Franti's tuneful pan-African ideals of peace, love, unity and equality fall upon deaf ears occupied by the glamorization of thug life. Perhaps Franti has to procure himself a shiny new grill and rap about bitches and hoes in order to secure some love.


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