If you are in need of a workout you might want to skip the gym and head to a Michael Franti and Spearhead concert instead. Franti’s recent two hour plus show at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts was a night of endless motion as the San Francisco based singer constantly ordered the crowd to raise their hands in the air and jump up and down. Living up to his reputation as a great live performer, Franti and his ace four piece band, Spearhead, launched the night with “I Don’t Wanna Go,” an upbeat song about appreciating life that had the crowd instantly up and dancing.
Franti and Co. followed with the gentle reggae beats of “Yes I Will” which led to “Stay Human (All the Freaky People.)” On the later, longtime Spearhead member, Carl Young, showed off his solid work on the bass and also sang a few refrains from Sly Stone’s “Family Affair.”
While a few older songs like “Yell Fire” made their way into the set, Franti favored material off his past three albums. In recent years, the barefoot, dreadlocked singer has dropped the angry edge of his earlier work in favor of a message of peace and love wrapped in a carefree mix of rap, reggae, funk, jam rock and sunny pop. Songs like “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like)” and the beat heavy “11:59,” from his new album “All People,” kept the good vibes coming to the point that the show often felt like a communal group hug.
But the warm and fuzzy lyrics would fizzle if Franti wasn’t such a dynamic front man, and Spearhead wasn’t such a tight band. Drummer Manas Itiene and bassist Young served up heavy doses of funk and reggae and guitarist J Bowman added frequent striking solos throughout the evening.
The band moved to the edge of the stage and Itiene played congas, for a moving version of “Hey World” that proved one of the quieter moments of the evening. But quiet wasn’t really what this show was about. Franti remains a strong social activist and between songs he spoke about equality and his experience playing on the streets of war torn countries, but he never let the message get in the way of the fun. Be it bringing members of the audience on stage to dance or wandering out in crowd, slapping hands and giving hugs, Franti went to great lengths to ensure everyone had a good time. Singing “Hey, Hey, Hey” from a cordless mic while surround by an adoring mob he slipped a verse of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” The night also featured yellow balloons being dropped on the crowd during “The Sound of Sunshine.”
Just when it seemed the evening couldn’t get any more raucous, Franti brought the opening act the Kopecky Family Band onstage for a full throttle version of “Let it Go.” Franti bound across the stage, danced in circles and even lay on his back and kicked the air as the rest of the musicians frantically played and sang along. It would have been a fitting end for the evening except that it wasn’t the end.
Franti returned to the stage for a three song encore that ended with his breakthrough hit “Say Hey (I Love You), on which the singer brought children onstage to help sing the infectious chorus. In keeping with the tone of the evening, Franti and Spearhead sent the exhausted crowd home on a high note.