Way Out In Left Field & Lovin’ It (Bottom Of The Ninth)
I’ll admit, I don’t know much about Michael Franti and Spearhead; really all I know is that some of the members are from San Francisco, one is from Africa and they’re awesome. A couple of years back, a friend gave me a scratched up copy of Everyone Deserves Music. I was only able to listen to a handful of tracks on the disc, but it did the trick. Sometime in the following weeks I downloaded tracks from their website and was completely hooked. Michael Franti and Spearhead are a groovier, jazzier, harder-core hippy rock than the brand played by Dave Matthews and Ben Harper. Their message is one of peace, love and tolerance, but unlike the others in this genre, their message is delivered as an iron fist in a same-day courier shipment instead of a feather duster sent standard post. Instead of the standard guitar strumming, Spearhead brings the noise in a more eclectic form. Songs range from ska, jazz and rock to straight up hip-hop. Michael Franti stands 6-foot-6 above sea level and sings with a deep raspy voice. His voice belts out a call to arms in a peaceful manner over the grooves laid down by Spearhead.
The band is very political in their music and lifestyle. When I recently saw them in concert, I was greeted at the door by tables of Amnesty International petitions and aide workers, there to educate and answer the questions of concert goers. This socially conscious attitude is reflected in the band’s recorded work, live shows and even in their merchandise which all comes from ethical sources.
This political nature has made the band stand out in both good and bad ways. Naturally, in the divided politics of America, Spearhead have been greeted with both praise and suspicion. Their open and unashamed criticism of the US administration has resulted in them getting investigated by the FBI as suspected terrorists and also banned from all Clear Channel radio stations. If you aren’t familiar with Clear Channel, they are a media power-house, owning hundreds of stations across the States; getting banned is not a small deal for a band trying to reach the masses. With every person who turns against Franti and Spearhead, it is hopeful that another learns a little more about the injustices of our world.
Spearhead educate as they entertain. Michael Franti went into Iraq shortly after major military action was completed. His goal was to show people of the world the heart and soul that is still alive within hell through the sweet sounds of music. On his journey he met many Iraqis whom, he learned, shared the common bond of a love for music. The entire journey was documented for a DVD called I Know I’m Not Alone.
In 2006 I got the chance to witness the band perform at the Guvernment. The audience was filled with weed smoke and dreads. Opening act State Radio started the night with a rock filled set of politically charged anthems. Not bad, but nothing compared to what followed. When Franti and Spearhead hit the stage, I was in awe. Their sound was impeccable and the atmosphere was unlike anything I have witnessed before. At one point in their show, Franti began a diatribe about loving your fellow human beings, during which he told the crowd to link up with the friends they had come with. Seeing that I was at the show with over a dozen friends we formed a huge human chain. As I looked around I noticed that the whole audience was intertwined into one long friendship bracelet. Each row of people was linked to the next, not a single person was standing alone, the crowd remained like this, singing and swaying with the music until after the ensuing track. It was one of those really cool experiences of unity that we rarely witness in modern times in the western world.
Thankfully, the band isn’t always serious. They are well known for doing a cover of Sublime’s What I’ve Got featuring Gift of Gab, which they broke into at the Guvernment performance. However, it was turned into a melody as it became the Cookie Monster classic C is for Cookie, then into some other amazing songs (which escape my memory as I’m writing this so long after the fact), then finally back into What I Got. The show went long and late, after which the band, instead of exiting stage left, jumped off into the crowd for a meet and greet. The members I met were very warm and inviting. Michael Franti gave me hug. I have a hard time believing anyone could think they are terrorists.
This brings me to the end of my Way Out in Left Field and Loving It series. As my previous entry stated, Kid Koala is way out in experimental left field, while Micheal Franti and Spearhead are of the leftist left field variety. Both acts are internationally well known, while also being relatively unknown to the masses. I highly recommend both.
One will open your mind to new ideas of music, one will open your mind to the world. eihcnerf