Taken from JamBase (December 14, 2001)
JamBase | SPEARHEAD | FOX THEATRE | COLORADO
by Dallas Kuykendall
The town of Boulder was to be given an early holiday treat with the arrival of Spearhead, and their enigmatic singer, Michael Franti, on this Friday night November 30th. After one of the longest weeks of my working year, this show was to be a treat and a much needed break for me. With the release of their newest album, Stay Human still recent, everyone in the crowd looked intrigued to see what these songs would sound like with that live flavor. With a perfect match in the ideologies of reggae, hip hop and r&b on the music side and a strong political message in the lyrics, Stay Human easily gets my nod as one of the best albums of the year. As a writer, it is always my pleasure to hear someone with the same passion for life that I try to possess. Michael Franti and Radioactive produce this with every song, most of which are about the struggles of man in a society as corrupt as today's. His message of trying to find true happiness in a world that makes it hard to do is beautiful and seems to just grab the crowd by the neck and make them watch his every move. This was the same reaction as with Marvin Gaye in my opinion. Some singers just seem to have that charisma onstage while others just seem to let their words come out. Michael definitely brings out his charm on stage and gets all to pour over him. For me, it's about the message and his is true, which was going to be the pivotal point in the show, and I was about to be blown away by a true master.
The traffic down I25 was murder, which caused us to walk in just as the opening band was exiting. This was not too much of a disappointment for me, as the true reason of me being there was Spearhead. The Fox Theatre was packed, more packed than I had ever seen it which made it almost impossible to move, get a drink, or try to get out and have a smoke. After getting my vodka and securing a spot in the back corner the night was on and nothing could bring me down, especially in such a special venue.
The night began for me musically with a local DJ named Thunder from Denver. He seemed to have some skills but the Fox cut him off during the set break as he exclaimed backstage after the show. The band took an extra long time to come out, joining us in celebration a bit after 10:30, almost two hours after the marquee said the show was to start. But hey, who actually comes out on time now in music. The band Spearhead is actually a very simple band musically. They consist of Michael Franti on vocals and acoustic guitar, Radioactive on vocals, Ramon Lazo on Fender Rhodes and various other keyboards, Carl Young on bass, Dave Shul on guitars and Roberto Quintana on drums and percussion. For a very simple pairing of instruments they produced a sound that seems to put happiness into the souls of all whom came to participate in their party. The music and strong lyrics pounded their way from song one, and I knew I would be walking out the Fox a happy camper. The only bad event on the evening was the loss my pen. This was bad due to the alcohol and my lack of memory. Here is my descriptive effort of the great night of music that was to ensue.
This was to be one long set with everyone wanting more after each song played. The night opened with "Do Ya Love," a great number about sex in the twentieth century and how some consider the revolution something that should not happen. It's message of homosexuality and its true moral conception in this song is beautiful. One line that grabs me is "I say do it at home, or on the street with a drag queen it don't matter to me, it ain't about the sex or having degrees your pedigree don't matter to me, its about who ya love." Let everyone do what makes them happy not what makes you happy. This is what love is truly about in my opinion, and it keeps my passion going.
The next song of the evening was a cover of Bob Marley's "War." It was another great note for the evening and for us in today's society of chaos and battle. This message is as powerful now as it will be in the future; that war is not pretty but needed sometimes for the true freedom of man. As with all music that has a political message, reggae is usually for the people, and with its message, it can usually bring people together. The mood for the night was set as the Fox was clinging to every word that came out of Michael's mouth. With his message being so positive, it was hard not to have a smile on your face the entire night. Which would have been a crime in its own right.
The next highlight of the evening came in the song, "Soulshine," which depicts how hard it is to be yourself in a world that works so hard to conform. The story line is a pretty simple one of "stop and smell the roses," which is a great parable that most don't consider. With the pace of life so fast and hard on our minds, each person needs to take some time for what makes them happy, no matter what that might be. Having changed my lifestyle a lot over the last year by moving to Colorado from the stress filled area of Chicago, life has gotten better for me by letting myself be happy in bits and pieces that will one day fill as a whole. Happiness is only hard to find when you let it fall out of your own reach. This song, as with a lot of Franti's, conveys a true search for what will make you smile and put a hold on all of the bullshit that life has in such a fast and troubling society. This song conveys a true meaning for all that listen, and puts a shine on my soul, which should be its true purpose in the first place.
The middle of the set proved again why this band is out there creating such positive vibes. The middle included our first sightings of rapper, Radioactive, and his vocal style. He is a fine rap artist who seems to get a song going with overdubbing by using his own unique style of old-school hip hop. This part of the set included a fiery version of "Ganja Babe," which seemed to have everyone wishing you could smoke in the Fox. The other highlights of the set included a blues version of "Red Beans & Rice," a slow version of the true beauty "Sometimes," and another great puffing tune, "Keep Me Lifted." The message of his true happiness came through again perfectly in all these songs which everyone seemed to be in touch with. This night witnessed a great tragedy in the world of rock & roll with the passing of Beatles guitarist George Harrison, and it was great to see his overall influence with the covers of the evening. The boys put on a smoking version of "Here Comes the Sun" which had everyone in the crowd looking on in a daze at all their memories that involved the Beatles, and remembering their overall greatness in all areas of music. It was a wonderful tribute involving two musicians of very different backgrounds but whose music both possessed a true sense of peace for all.
The two high points of the latter portion of the set were both from the new album, and proved to be two of my personal favorite Spearhead songs. The first is the title tune from the album, Stay Human. This one gives a strong idea of what Michael had grown up with in an urban environment and all the pit falls of that situation. Its opening lines are, "Starvation is a creation of the devil, a rebel, I'm bringing food to the people like a widow, bringing flowers to a grave in the middle, of a city isolation is a riddle, to be surrounded by a million other people but feel alone like a tree in the desert." This is something that I know all too well from growing up in a city and watching its awful control over each and all that lived there. Cities can be one of the most powerful places to be because there is so much activity and beauty amassed with crime, poverty, drugs, and just an overall uneasiness. I did a lot of research in the ghettos of Chicago, and I found that most of the people there wanted to be happy but had no means to do it. This often had a lot to do with their horrible drug habits and the lifestyle they wanted to live. For most in the urban war, it's hard to get out of where you are because it is who you are and where you have been your whole life. But for Michael, it seemed that he could have the best of both worlds. By putting out his message of sadness that he saw along with his impression of how simple life can be, he seemed to be one of the few that has gotten out of hell and into heaven. As a poet still looking for my true expression, these next lines prove to me all that he is about in keeping his message real. With lyrics like these, I hope all will give this band a chance. "To be rhymin without a real reason, is to claim but not to practice a religion, if television is the drug of the nation, satellite is immaculate conception, beaming in they can look and they can listen, so you see don't believe in the system, to legalize you or give you freedom." This is an abruptly true look at how screwed up this place we live actually is no matter where you are, and that true happiness is not as hard to find if your mind is up for the hunt.
The next highlight came before the encore started, and was "Every Single Soul." It's another one that grabs me personally because of its poetic message of how fucked up this world is and that we have to find our own personal views for true happiness. This song gives me my favorite line out of this beautiful poet, with the chorus, "No matter where I roam, I know every single soul is a poem, written on the back of God's hand." That is very true to me because I am one who likes to delve into any situation and meet the people deemed strange and weird by society. I feel this lets me form a true opinion of how all live through their actions and thoughts. As a writer, I feel Michael has this true passion as well. His feelings seem to possess the same sentiments as mine; no prejudice or hatred toward someone just because of their looks on the outside. This is something I tried to convey when conducting my interviews with what society considers to be the worst of the worst; drug addicts, prostitutes, dealers, and the homeless. These are people just like anyone else, but to get into their mind frame was important because their true beauty could still be seen inside of their frail outsides. All humans are like this, a point that Michael makes with the simple name of this song. He brings in one of the best thoughts I have seen put onto paper with the next lines. "Right from the start, in a world torn apart, a baby's love leaves finger prints upon the heart, so many think it, but never say it, why bring a child to this planet full of hatred?" It seems that every single soul has their own message to possess, which is also the message of this song. We are one and need to help all those who may never make it.
The encore started out with Radioactive performing a great old hip hop tool of dubbing his mike with his mouth. The jam was about two minutes and was probably the greatest overall hip hop jam I had ever seen. He sounded like a great DJ, flowing his vocals with the bass to produce an almost electronic sound through his own overdub. The jam was a fantastic overlay into the first highlight of this long encore, a new tune, "Rock the Nation." This is one of the true hip hop songs that they did perform that evening and it was by far the best. It's funny because this song goes against what most of the fans and the beautiful state of Colorado is about; money, and the happiness that most think it can bring. The idea is to use your mind as your weapon and let money be a catalyst to help those who cannot get past the true evils of life. The true message is conveyed in many lines, including the chorus, "Rock the nation, take over television and radio station, Rock the nation, give the cooperation some complication." He seems to put forth a great message as an individual not agreeing with how society tells us to live. The notion is powerful throughout the song and gives me a good feeling all over as a true individual. He just tells it from an urban environment. "This is the dawning of our time, I say it one more time, to emphasize the meaning of my rhyme, and raise above all the dirt and grime, at the right space and the right time, fuck the constitution are we part of the problem or are we part of the pollution, sitting by and wondering why life things ain't the way we want them to be..." This just proves once again that he is looking to try to find a way to improve not only his life but all of those around him. This song has so many lyrics that this will be my only quote; to try and list them all would take too much time, because to get your own meaning of the song you should listen for yourself and marvel at its
The second strong point of the long encore was "Sometimes." After a great version of "Dream Time," it surfaced out of a jam that I thought was going to end the set. This is the best new song of the year, in my musical opinion. It possesses a simple message of hope. With great lyrics like, "A mean city is a nasty place, only a rat can win a rat race," and "peace to the people who be trying to find, some kind of life." This song is a beacon of hope for anyone to try to just be happy with the idea that it only happens sometimes, so cherish it. Its message is so simple that anyone who did not see it must not have been listening. The jam inside the song proved these guys as musicians, with Carlos, Carl and Dave all holding their own in solos while Michael danced with this honey who had a great shirt that made me see why he brought her up: "Dance your ass off." What a great message for those there, and a nice piece of showmanship by the band.
After the show, we were very lucky to go backstage and see what these guys did after a great gig. We got to chill for about 45 minutes and meet a cavalcade of interesting Boulder locals. Michael did get to chat with us for a second for the web site. Although it seemed very rushed because they also had an interview with some local TV channel, so we did not get to talk much. He seemed to be a very intelligent soul and had a fire in his eyes and a passion in his spoken word. He mentioned that a lot of their music is inspired by his interactions with other people, and lessons he has learned. He seems to hope that all are happy in such a fucked up time. God Bless Michael and his thoughts, for I hope one day we can all have that type of message.
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on 12/14/2001]