Taken from EARVOLUTION (November 08, 2010)
Schultz' Earful: Michael Franti & Spearhead
by David Schultz
Standing 6’ 6” tall, Michael Franti has never had to worry about being noticed amidst a crowd. Even without his distinctive dreadlocked visage completing the picture, anyone owning a television would be hardpressed to say they are unaware of his existence, his “Say Hey (I Love You)” rapidly becoming the most ubiquitous advertising jingle since John Mellencamp climbed into bed with the fine folks at Chevrolet. With Franti’s catchy paean to the power of love promoting everything ranging from beer, FIFA sanctioned soccer and the victorious San Francisco Giants, it raises concerns about whether a message of peace and unity loses its luster and significance when it’s brought to you by your friendly caring global corporate sponsor. Further muddying the picture, Franti has returned to Capitol Records for his latest album, The Sound Of Sunshine, rejoining the major label that released the first two Spearhead albums in the mid-Nineties. Always a voice of the people, it’s now becoming necessary to divorce Franti’s populism from the medium of its delivery. As far as I can recall, it’s a trick that’s only been successfully pulled off by Bono.
Unfazed after being dropped by his label, Franti’s power to the peaceful attitude never wavered. In fact, his travels throughout the war ravaged regions of the Middle East only served to make him surer of his convictions. Franti’s already joyful music became infused with an emboldened spirit of positivity, serving as a vehicle for him to spread his vision of a world where acceptance, tolerance and inclusion are the norm and not the exception. Befittingly, his growing mainstream popularity has attracted more followers into his flock. His shows are no longer select gatherings and his recent return to New York City for a midweek show required the use of the cavernous environs of Terminal 5 to house all of Franti’s freaky people that make the music of his world.
The attraction of any Franti show is the ebullient energy he generates. Even though he would welcome them with open arms, disaffected hipsters really have no place at a Spearhead show, Franti being the rare performer that creates a sense of unity throughout any crowd. It’s a task accomplished through Franti’s undeniable charisma. Sophisticated concert-goers will find much fodder for nitpicking. If you aren’t distracted by guitarist Jay Bowman’s nonsensical preening, the derivative nature of much of the music, which is indisputably catchy and danceable, stand out sharply. Most noticeably, the last half hour of the show consisted of not much more than different variations of U2’s “Bad.” However, for every misfire like a mistimed and off key segue into Louie Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” there’s a Where’s Waldo like stunt where Franti pops up with his guitar in the balcony and sings amongst the crowd or the simple joy of an enthusiastic display of flower arrangement. There are many more cooks involved in Franti’s presentation to the world than there have been in the past. Franti’s shows have always been solid sustenance for the soul and it would be a shame if his heartening and inspirational message becomes diluted.