Taken from pod gallery (Nov, 2001)
Michael Franti and Spearhead: Stay Human
A review of the American Hip-Hopper's latest outing.
by Katherine Koesasi
I rarely stand up the front at gigs. Until recently, my most memorable "standing up the front" experience was at the Big Day Out in 1993. It rained that day. By the afternoon the Showgrounds were a mudbath.
Mudspattered and energized, I jockeyed for pole position to see one of my favourite bands, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. At that gig I jumped higher than ever before. My heart roared, filled by the electricity of the performance and anger about worldwide injustice.
Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to see Michael Franti perform again, this time with his latest band, Spearhead, at The Laundry in Melbourne. The band had just flown in from Canada, expecting to do an "in studio" radio station "live to air" performance. Instead they were welcomed by a couple of hundred enthusiastic fans and performed a "live to air" concert.
The gig was one of the best I've ever been to. It was intimate, buzzing with energy, the music was awesome and the band really connected with the crowd. I was right up the front, soaking up the vibe! The highlight of the gig was when Franti had the whole crowd jumping up and down singing the chorus from the track Stay Human; "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world!"
Spearhead's visit to Melbourne has coincided with the release of their latest CD, Stay Human. Stay Human is a double CD that is structured like a radio show with each track being "played" by the faux djs. I was originally apprehensive about the format of the CD. Would it be listenable? In fact, the structure cleverly allows Franti to explore the implications of state condoned killing for the value of human life, through the djs commenting about a fictional death penalty case. The mood of the CD develops as the case of the woman in question unfolds on the radio show.
Musically, the album has more depth than Spearhead's previous albums Home and Chocolate Supa Highway. The harmonies are fuller and Franti explores a wider variety of musical styles than just hip-hop; embracing R&B, funk and reggae. Oh my God! and Rock the Nation are two tracks that really get the soul juices going. It is a more positive, uplifting album than previous Spearhead CDs despite the fact it focuses on the death penalty. The message of is one of hope, celebrating the value of every human life and the wonder of every individual.
Michael Franti and Spearhead lived their message through their actions at the gig. As it finished, Franti, who has not worn shoes for eighteen months (Franti wants to "walk lightly" on this earth.), stepped into the crowd, embracing individuals as he met them, sharing their stories. The rest of the band was just as approachable, drinking and chatting to everyone at the bar afterwards.
When I left the gig my spirits were lifted and I recommend the album for a dose of spiritual hope and rage against injustice.