Review: Michael Franti

(Above: Michael Franti and Spearhead perform at the Electric Picnic Festival in Ireland.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Michael Franti and Spearhead were just starting their new song, “The Sound of Sunshine” when the first drops of rain appeared. By the guitar solo they were landing regularly. At the end it was obvious the rain wasn’t moving on.

The building storm intensified “Yell Fire,” the politically charged next number, but Franti was undeterred, worming his way through the crowd, getting wet with the masses that filled two-thirds of Crossroads to see him on a Sunday night. As Franti made his way back onstage he pulled some musicians from the crowd who lead an impromptu jam on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” When the song ended Franti’s voice could be heard, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Michael Franti spent nearly as much time in the crowd as he did onstage. (Photo by Travis Beye.)

“Those of you in front, turn around,” Franti’s voice boomed, and there he was, standing on something in the middle of the lawn, acoustic guitar around his neck, water dripping from his dreadlocks, tattooed skin glistening. “Hey Hey” was already a pretty infectious song, made all the more so by the troubadour standing among us. As everyone sang along, Franti worked in a few bars of “Singing in the Rain” and how great the weather was in Kansas City.

That is it about water falling from the sky that makes every note hit deeper? Couples dance closer, hands clap harder and voices sing louder. The rain erodes social boundaries, arbitrary delineations of Our Group and Their Group and baptizes everyone in the communal experience of music.

The encore found everyone in the band down in the pit with the crowd, banging away at their instruments as if oblivious to the relationship between water and electricity. With the audience packed around, joining in on vocals and percussion, for a moment it almost felt like summer camp.

The first half of the concert couldn’t compare to the hour that developed in the downpour. Backed by a six-piece band, Franti delivered old favorites, like an acoustic arrangement of “Sometimes” that allowed for several solos, and new songs like the current single “Shake It Shake It,” which found everyone doing just that. Another stand-out track from the forthcoming “Sound of Sunshine” album was “Never Too Late,” a ballad about angels and life Franti wrote in the hospital while recovering from an emergency appendectomy last summer. It sounds corny, but he made it poignant.

At six feet, five inches, Franti is hard to miss, even in a chicken mask. Spearhead invaded the last song of opening act One Eskimo’s set dressed in Mexican wrestling masks. The band roughhoused around the stage and eventually hoisted the singer and bass player on their shoulders mid-song.

One Eskimo returned the favor during the final number of Spearhead’s two-hour set, appearing onstage with a sizable class of children culled from the crowd for “Say Hey (I Love You).” Spearhead’s surprise hit from last summer had everyone singing along from the first note, and Franti was happy to share the mic with the young fans onstage.

After everyone in both the elevated and ground-level audiences had their fill of singing and dancing, Franti discovered a wind-up, cymbal-playing monkey, which he happily held up to the mic and let have a solo.

A new rhythm came out of that, and Franti coaxed a boy to do the robot, much to the delight of the crowd. The rain was still coming down, but no one wanted to leave. When you’re this wet, what’s a few more drops?

Setlist: Love Don’t Wait, The Thing That Helps, Rude Boys Back in Town, All I Want Is You, Hello Bonjour, Shake it Shake It, Right On Time, Sometimes, Never Too Late, Sometimes, Everyone Deserves Music, Light Up Ya Lighter, Only Thing Missing Is You, Sound of Sunshine, Yell Fire, Hey Hey, I Won’t Leave You Alone, I’ll Be Waiting. Encore: Yes I Will, I Got Love For You, Say Hey (I Love You).

Keep reading:

Reggae, rock, hip-hop, pop: It’s all Michael Franti

Review: Michael Franti at the Wakarusa Music Festival (2007)

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