Michael Franti & Spearhead | 10.02.09

franti-small.jpgThe energy of the crowd hit an apex with Franti’s anthem of peace and love "East to the West," everyone clapping and cheering at the declaration "Love is too big for just one nation and God is too big for just one religion."

 

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Photos: Amy Burger

The Pageant, St. Louis

Being at a Michael Franti show feels something like being enveloped in a warm, musical hug. You cannot help but smile when you hear his music, and you cannot help but dance when you see his nearly seven foot frame bouncing around the stage. The crowd at The Pageant Friday night for Franti’s show with Spearhead, his band of nearly 15 years, was a true mix of people of all ages and all walks of life – even a decent contingency of children – illustrating just how universal Franti’s message and sound is.

Without hesitation, Franti stormed the stage and got the crowd jumping up and down as he opened the show with the infectious "A Little Bit of Riddim" from last year’s All Rebel Rockers. Even Beatle Bob was spotted in the front row banging his head. He continued the momentum, moving into the equally upbeat "Hello Bonjour."

franti-2.jpgThroughout his hour and a half set, the barefoot Franti (he has not worn shoes, with few exceptions, since 2000) alternated between acoustic and electric guitar, jamming in front of a backdrop depicting a Jamaican street scene. Draped over a large wire crossing the stage hung an oversized pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, hovering just over Franti’s head. Guitarist Dave Shul, drummer Manas Itiene, keyboardist Raliegh Neal and badass bassist Carl Young backed Franti, on guitar and vocals, working through uplifting fan favorites like "Everyone Deserves Music," "Yell Fire," and "Sometimes."

The energy of the crowd hit an apex with Franti’s anthem of peace and love "East to the West," everyone clapping and cheering at the declaration "Love is too big for just one nation and God is too big for just one religion."

The sound of Michael Franti & Spearhead cannot be confined to one particular genre. Although there are the obvious rhythms and influences of reggae (nods to Bob Marley, both lyrically and musically), there are also heavy doses of funk, soul, rock and hip-hop; and at times, you can also hear hints of The Police and early punk bands like The Clash (Franti’s first band was industrial punk band The Beatnigs). Whatever the exact blend may be, every note seems joyous, a gift.

For the tender "I Got Love for You," Franti brought a young boy of maybe eight or nine on stage to stand by him. The boy, clutching a pair of drumsticks, stared up at the towering Franti with awe and mouthed some of the words along, hesitantly at first. It didn’t take long before he was following Franti all around the stage, dancing with complete abandon, as if he weren’t standing up in front of nearly 2,000 people.

To close out the show, Franti performed his biggest hit to date, from All Rebel Rockers, the happy, hand-clappy "Say Hey (I Love You)" with about 10 kids from the audience onstage with him. He even handed the mic to an adorable little girl maybe five or six years old, who ripped through an entire verse without missing a beat. As much fun as it was to hear Franti perform the song, it was almost more fun to experience it through the kids, having the time of their lives on stage at The Pageant with a true rock star (no doubt they all went to school today with a great story to tell).

Although he’s been performing with Spearhead for more than a decade, Franti has really started building a strong following the past several years, particularly touring on the festival circuit. This was my first time catching him live, and after a thoroughly grooving show, I’m sure it won’t be my last. | Amy Burger

 

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