Michael Franti and Spearhead
The Madison Theater
October 22, 2010
Few things in this world are as safe bets as a Spearhead show being an up-tempo, feel good affair. On this night Michael Franti brought his affair to Covington, Kentucky. Since he first burst onto the scene with two industrial hip-hop outfits (the Beatnigs and later with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy,) Michael Franti has been nigh uniform in his purveyance of both compassion and joy, often surveying his audience with only one question…"How ya feelin’?" to ensure that all are on the same page. In the eyes of some, it can be viewed as an empty hype phrase in search of a cheap yell from the crowd. However, these words coming from Franti mean all that they say and so much more. From that love in his heart came a songbook of tunes written solely to celebrate the good in life, decry the bad, and urge listeners to appreciate each moment. Michael Franti and his band operate from a place of service for their ever increasing devotees in an effort to provide all in attendance with an uplifting positivity that casts those who witness his live show to make acquaintance with the clouds.
Franti puts his money where his mouth is as well. While many artists give lip service towards solving the world’s problems, Franti is out there actively fighting them. His work with the Soles for Souls campaign looks to gather 100,000 pairs of shoes for the needy around the world, an interesting cause for the musician to take on as he rarely opts to wear foot coverings. He also travels the world as an ambassador for CARE, an organization trying to alleviate poverty by elevating girls and young women in less fortunate countries through education. Rather than take what he saw on the news as gospel, he traveled to the Middle East himself and filmed a documentary of his tour there to help shed light on the ancient conflicts of the region. It could be said that he gains personally from this, his strong media presence bolstering his record album sales. But when hearing him speak with unmistakable passion, and seeing the fire in his eyes as declares his wishes for peace and equality, it is easy to understand why he is both loved and trusted around the world, and the joy that he would shed through his music on this Kentucky night only further confirmed his overall demeanor and spirit as he and spearhead played to the crowd at The Madison Theater.
The Madison Theater is nestled in the old theater district of Covington, Kentucky. Once an old movie and play house, it was eventually converted into its present concert hall state. The tiers that held chairs that were carried over from the transition provided multiple unobstructed sight lines for patrons as well as a tiered balcony with its own bar. The classic styling of the lit marquee over the entrance way made for an air of authenticity that is all too often not presently found as much as in times and clubs past.
Bobby Lang offered a short but well-received set as an excited buzz worked its way through a truly diverse crowd. With equal parts ethnicity, ages, and sexes on hand, the sundry of human beings was a beautiful sight to see. There were children on their parents’ shoulders, smiling grandmothers dancing with their grandchildren, and starry eyed fans eager to sing along to their favorite songs. After an introduction from winners of the "Introduce Spearhead" contest held for each stop of the tour on the band’s website, the evening started proper.
Seeing a Spearhead show is more than just a pleasurable evening of campfire sing-along numbers and rabble rousing; It is a full on aerobic event. Part of any show goers preparations should include a few days of high protein, nutritious meals, and some serious preshow stretches and calisthenics.
Franti himself, an avid yoga participator, could very easily transfer his high energy hype man persona into the cruelest spin class guru ever. Constant exhortations to the crowd to put their hands up, jump up and down, and for a couple of years there, to do the Hokey Pokey, have turned his devoted followers into a lean, mean, help the world machine. And, regularly throughout the show Franti would check in on his crowd to make sure they were keeping pace or if anyone needed a water break, granola bar, etc.
Singing songs like "Everyone Deserves Music" and "Say Hey (I Love You)," Franti and his whip sharp band, featuring dual guitarists and multi-instrumentalist Manas Itiene on percussion delighted a packed house with their songs and their antics. All of the songs were someone in the crowd’s favorite, and each was received with rapt attention and complete affection. As has become standard fare as of late, Franti made his walk-through into the crowd, taking his show through the crowd and up the stairs to the balcony, pausing to do a song from the edge of the balcony’s lip.
In another now standard move, Franti invited a pair of lucky attendees onstage, placed guitars in their hands, and asked them to engage in a little Nirvana "Teen Spirit" action. Judging from what could be seen of their playing attempts, the fact that the instruments were unplugged may have been for the best. These types repetitious antics are the subject of many a music critic. However, what those people are missing is that Franti has found a way to effectively break down the barrier between audience and performer, which definitely is not demonstrative of his lack of creativity or spontaneity, but rather evidence to support the fact that he wants to share in the joy that is taking place on the crowd rather than trying to simply cast a joyous spell over them from the safety of his perch.
As the track title track of Spearhead’s latest studio release, The Sound of Sunshine, Michael smiled to himself. It was a small but telling thing, a moment of personal enjoyment. For someone who works so hard to entertain a crowd, this small grin was an expressive attestation to the fact that he humbly appreciates what he does and needed a moment to enjoy it all himself. To boot, it offered him a chance to take in some of the energy he was giving out. As the song ended, he urged the youngest and the oldest in the audience to join him on stage. They joined him in a reprise of the song, eventually giving the mic to the youngest present, letting her lead the crowd in song. It is safe to say that, from the beaming mega watt light of joy coming from her eyes, that this moment was an instance in her young life that will never be forgotten.
The end of the show came and went, and the house lights revealed an entire room full of people who needed to hit the showers. If "all the freaky people make up all the beauty in the world" as Michael says, it was clear that we live in a beautiful place. Smiling and sweat-drenched faces stretched from wall to wall, with strangers hugging loved ones and strangers alike, spreading the feeling of mutual love that had been inspired by the night’s performance. The amount of calories burned collectively could have fueled the clubs lights and sound systems entirely on their own. With Michael Franti’s green tendencies, it’s likely his next tour will feature treadmills hooked into the arena’s power grid to give the fans the ultimate in connection to the music. The latter was accomplished in its entirety on this night.