Friday, July 15, 2016

Michael Franti & Spearhead at the PlayStation Theater

Michael Franti
Michael Franti was born in Oakland, California, but began his journey into music by writing poetry while attending college in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a bass at a pawn shop and started creating music inspired by the hip hop, punk, and reggae that was being played on the campus radio station. He formed the Beatnigs in 1986, and released an album and an EP before the band split in 1990. The following year Franti formed the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, expanding his vision of social commentary set to a fusion of industrial music and hip hop until that band split in 1993. Franti formed Spearhead in 1994, leaning initially on funk and soul sounds and later on hip hop and reggae. The band was renamed Michael Franti & Spearhead in 1999. The San Francisco-based band presently consists of Franti on vocals and guitar, guitarist Jay Bowman, keyboardist Mike Blankenship, bassist Carl Young, and drummer Manas Itiene. Michael Franti & Spearhead's ninth and most recent album, SoulRocker, was released on June 3, 2016.

Headlining at the PlayStation Theater tonight, Michael Franti probably spent as much time on the stage as he did in the audience. By the beginning of his third song, the barefoot Franti was already singing, strolling, high-fiving and hugging fearlessly through the audience, finding his way to a small platform and microphone stand in the center of the room. His delivery was all about connecting with his fans, and repeatedly taking his time through the audience was more than a token gesture. Franti sang songs from his four most recent albums (eight songs from his most recent album) and eschewed his first five albums entirely. His vocal range was truncated, and he sounded off-key on many songs, but the positive energy he projected made it easy for his fans to forgive these trespasses. Many of his newer songs embraced electronic dance music, and fans responded by jumping to the rhythms with him. There were serious moments as well, some of which featured him playing solo on acoustic guitar. During a quieter period, the chatty Franti alluded to recent dark national events, encouraging his listeners to positivity over despair. Perhaps that aspect of who Franti is, the social activist, cool dad, and all-around upbeat guy, in the end was even more endearing than his musical performance.

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