After negotiating the steamy summer streets of Times Square, thronged with tourists and animated characters, it was a relief to arrive in the cool cavern of the PlayStation Theater June 10th and the pulsating musical joy that is Michael Franti and Spearhead. From the moment the ever-barefoot Franti hit the stage with “Hey Hey Hey”, he had the crowd and his bandmates in an infectious and happy frenzy. By the second song, “The Sound of Sunshine”, dozens of oversized bright yellow balloons were bouncing above the crowd, and security had pulled a fan out of the crowd onto the stage where Franti handed her a mic and they danced and sang their way through the song. Within a few more songs, Franti was off the stage and over the rail, singing, hugging and glad-handing his way through the crowd. The multi-tiered PlayStation Theater might be the perfect venue for Franti, who worked the room, frequently wandering through the fans on the floor up to a platform on the second level, and even up to the tiered seating way in the back, playing guitar, singing and dancing and pulling fans up to dance with him the whole time.
Even with a few more mellow songs in the dozen and a half song set, the energy and smiles never waned. Franti, lead guitarist J Bowman and bassist Carl Young seemed to compete for biggest and longest sustained smile. The two-hour set was drawn mainly from his last few albums including 2016’s SOULROCKER. A highpoint as always was “11:59” which this time around briefly sampled Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” presumably in recognition of recent death of Chris Cornell.
Positivity is a key component of Franti’s distinctive reggae-tinged folky rock, densely-packed-in lyrics, and upbeat but political themes. Of course, politics are an integral part of any Franti show and the Power To The Peaceful tour is no exception. And while not as political as last’s summer’s NYC city show held in the midst of the rancor of the election and the shootings by and of police officers, Franti preached his themes of peace, respect, love and inclusion. He described his foundation Do It For The Love which provides concert tickets (to any band) for critically ill fans. He celebrated his family including telling the story of his adoptive family and dedicating a song to his wife, Sara, who joined him on stage for “Life Is Better With You”. With a shout out to his adoptive mother, who taught him to “treat every kid the way he expected to be treated”, he closed with “My Lord” and launched himself back into the crowd for the third and final time. The show closed with Franti inviting two dozen fans on stage and swaying along to John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” as he introduced the members of Spearhead. As the fans streamed out, the sound system continued to crank out positive music – Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”.
Michael Franti and Spearhead are touring all summer and into the fall. Make a point to see them if you need a large dose of joy with your music.