Fan or not, it would be impossible not to love a Michael Franti and Spearhead gig.
Last night I checked out the rockers at Shed 6 in Wellington. I went along to this gig knowing only a handful of songs but from the moment they strutted on stage with an immense energy I knew that wasn’t going to be an issue. Michael Franti is an outstanding musician. He shines as front man, casting a spell across an already rapturous crowd, he has each member doing exactly as he asks seconds into the first song.
His sound incorporates a bit of rock, reggae and hip hop, in a unique and compelling way. Second song, Stay Human (all the freaky people), was hilarious. Everyone in the crowd was singing along with stupid grins across their faces as Franti bounced around the stage bursting out the silly lyrics.
High points included Life Is Better With You, Closer To You and an awesome new song I sadly can’t remember the name of. The fans went nuts for an alive performance of The Sound Of Sunshine, in which big yellow balloons were punted around and fun-levels sky rocketed.
In 11:59 the crowd well and truly lost the plot as Franti jumped down amongst everyone and started one big dance party with his fans. He kindly hugged and hi-fived everyone, sang along with some and even pulled the biggest of fans up onto a platform with him for a few one-on-one boogies. It was great watching and a real testament to how down to earth he was as a performer. How many artists these days would you see do this? (Note: this was only one out of three times he joined the crowd)
But this wasn’t just a concert about Franti, the Spearhead gang were just as entertaining on stage. In fact, I found it hard to know which performer to watch at times. They all had an incredible presence on stage and knew just how to play into the audiences hands. J bowman is a force on the guitar, he rocked across the stage at speed never tiring of shaking his head up and down, encouraging singalongs and of course, playing some rousing solos. Bassist Carl Young produced some of the best bass beats I’ve ever encountered and carried them off with a contagious energy and smile. Manas Itiene kept the tempo flowing on the drums and his piercing vocals were a beautiful compliment to Franti’s. I kept thinking throughout the show, what a fantastic team they were. They supported each other with real passion and seemed to be having the time of their lives on stage.
Franti slowed things down about half way through the set in a poignant moment when he spoke about the illness his 15-year-old son is suffering. The song that followed was a new one written to his son encouraging him to be a fighter – it was chilling. Franti sang it with real emotion and there was barely a whisper as the audience soaked it up.
I expected that Franti would get a bit preachy during this concert. After all, he is renowned for speaking up on world issues and fighting for peace. Listen to any of the lyrics in his songs and that’s pretty obvious. But I’m pleased to say he didn’t take this too far. This show was about the music spreading his message and that’s what he let it do, without unnecessary commentary in between.
At the end the group topped things off perfectly with rousing performances of Say Hey and I’m Alive. These were obvious crowd favourites and they didn’t disappoint, the songs were extended out so the crowd could keep singing their favourites lines and Franti made each and every one of us feel like he was thrilled we were there singing along with him.
My only criticism would be that the show should have finished here. Instead we got another new song and a bizarre dj-set from J Bowman in which he played songs by people like Kid Cudi before ending with Give Peace A Chance. It didn’t work and sadly the crowd fell a bit flat right at the end.
But despite this, it was a brilliant concert and one I’d very much like to see again. Before last night I wouldn’t have called myself a big fan, but this morning I am. Go to a Michael Franti and Spearhead concert if you ever get the chance, you will be pleased you did.