Spearhead delivers soul shakedown party in Memphis

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Michael Franti and Spearhead
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, Tennessee
June 12, 2010

It started simply enough, and in the same way it has for several tours – with the Spearhead-enhanced "I Shot The Sheriff" PA music.

But once Michael Franti himself bellowed "Memphis, are you ready!?!?!?" from a microphone off-stage, things started to get rowdy and the party started. It wouldn’t stop for several hours, and in the end, no soul in the room could have possibly walked out of Minglewood Hall without a smile on their face and a soul cathartically cleansed by the positive vibrations of the Spearhead experience.

mf-mh-4.jpg"Love Don’t Wait" opened the show, with the music coming from offstage. Guitarist Dave Shul was the first to emerge, on stage solo with an acoustic guitar, the rest of the band joined him soon enough. Finally, Franti bouneded on stage, clad in a black military-style uniform, black glasses, and dreads pulled up Princess Leia-style. The man has endless amounts of energy, and it was apparent that Memphis was in for a treat.

Franti’s music has been a diverse, seemingly ever-changing medium. In a three-song burst early in the show, Spearhead treated the crowd to "The Thing That Helps Me Get Through," a song sure to turn into an arena rockin’ crowd favorite; "Rude Boys Back In Town," a reggae song fit for a sun-drenched crowd at an outside festival, and "All I Want Is Use," which featured a thumping dub step drums-and-bass breakdown in the middle that would easily be right at home at any dancehall in the Caribbean. The latter featured a verse of Soft Cell’s "Tainted Love," which had the entire room singing along.

In fact, the crowd was engaged in the show from the beginning, showing the traction that Spearhead’s gaining in the Mid-South.  Franti remarked that he didn’t expect many people to be at the show, it being Bonnaroo weekend, but the crowd was fairly strong, all things considered – there was also a free Cowboy Junkies show across town which drew a large crowd. It was only the fourth time that Spearhead’s played Memphis, and his following is growing.

mf-mh-6.jpgFranti’s most underrated disc has to be Songs From The Front Porch, acoustic takes on tracks from Stay Human and Everyone Deserves Music  and smack in the middle of the set, the band picked up acoustic instruments, drummer Manas Itiene grabbed a djembe, and the band played a stellar "Sometimes." It was followed by a semi-acoustic "Sweet Little Lies" that morphed into a rowdy but somewhat standard cover of Sublime’s "What I Got," augmented by an audience member who was pulled out of the crowd to take vocal duties.

Spearhead has always been a politically active group, addressing issues through song ranging from the war in the Middle East to the death penalty. Prior to diving into "Everyone Deserves Music," Franti commented on his trip to the Hangout Music Festival and the pending arrival of globs of oil on the Alabama shore.

Over the course of the show, Spearhead dove into a ton of new material, most of which seemed to be a departure in spirit from prior songs. The new tunes seem to illustrate a "softer" Michael Franti – the seriousness of his ruptured appendix undoubtedly made him recognize the important things in his life, and it’s reflected in his latest writing; the subject matter of songs like "Gloria" and "Only Thing Missing Was You" are a departure from the politically-charged reggae rock where Spearhead has historically exceled. That’s not to say that the new material is bad, because it’s wonderful – it’s just different.

mf-mh-27.jpgThe band didn’t abandon their meal ticket, though, and "Yell Fire" was delivered with the same vigor and urgency as it always is, and it was followed by "Hey Hey Hey," a new song that does touch on current events affecting our world today.

If there’s one thing that Franti is best at, it’s engaging the crowd. Whether it’s emerging by the soundboard, smack in the middle of the room to play "Hey Hey Hey" solo on acoustic, or pulling the audience on stage to dance and sing, he’s always looking for ways to interact with his fans, to make them a part of the show. It’s the all-inclusiveness of the Spearhead experience that makes it special.

Therefore, no one should have been shocked when the band came out for the encore – not on stage, but in the audience. The entire band strolled out, marching band-style, and treated the audience to a truly amazing "Yes I Will" that segued into a bit of Bob Marley’s "Soul Shakedown Party" as the procession made its way back towards the stage.

The encore continued with "Got Love For You," and everything wrapped with about ten kids on stage for the hit "Say Hey." The house lights came up, the music came over the PA, and the audience stayed and danced. That’s a tell-tale sign of an amazing concert – when people are so giddy that they physically CAN’T leave and stay to boogie to pre-recorded house music. If there’s one artist out there who can truly warm the heart, cleanse the soul, and wash your cares away, it’s Michael Franti and Spearhead, and performed that exorcism at Minglewood.

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