Sunday, October 4, 2009


MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD setlist 10/3/09 Santa Fe Horse Park

This is corrected compared to what the actual printed setlist says…

A Little Bit of Riddim
Hello Bonjour
We Don’t Stop
Rude Boys Back in Town
All I Want Is You (w/Tainted Love tease)
East to the West *
Everyone Deserves Music
(You Got to Walk and) Don’t Look Back (w/Casey Jones tease)
Sometimes (Electric)
Anytime You Want Me
Never Too Late
Yell Fire * (w/Smells like Teen Spirit tease **)
Sound of Sunshine *
I Got Love for You


Everybody Ona Move (w/Billie Jean tease)
Hey World (Remote Control version)
Hey World (Don’t Give Up version w/new arrangement, new lyrics)
Say Hey (I Love You) ***

* with guest Robert Mirabal
** with Mirabal and audience members Erica and Denny
*** with Mirabal and lots of kids from the audience

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Michael Franti has God-like powers. I’m not just referring to his notorious ability to connect with an audience like the tractor beam connected with the Millenium Falcon in “Star Wars,” nor am I referring to the way he somehow manages to be political and positive at the same time – I’m talking about being able to deliver a performance which proves he has those powers and more while sweating out a fever of 104 degrees.

Michael Franti & Spearhead have been in their current configuration (minus Cherine Anderson) for some 15 years, but they’re now amidst an audience growth spurt with the release of their first, bona-fide, across-the-board, hit single – “Say Hey (I Love You)”. This is a roundabout way of saying there were a lot more “norms” in the crowd than usual, but also just a lot more people, period.

All the hoopsters (that particular brand of show regular first seen, by me, at String Cheese shows in the early 00’s) had started congregating on the grass. One already sunburned hippy-shaker managed to balance a glass of beer on her head while hula hooping in a very heavy, warm-looking, presumably homemade, patchwork halter top dress. These typical Franti-show-free-spirit-types mingled with the vaguely “Colorado-jock-and-their-perfect-family-with-2.5-children” types, and a few thousand varying degrees of us grooved along somewhere in between.

I had been in line for one of the ridiculously small number of port-a-johns about 30 minutes when the first drum-and-bass driven notes of “A Little Bit of Riddim” came thumping across the Santa Fe Horse Park. One of my favorites from their most recent release, “All Rebel Rockers,” its siren’s call nearly pulled me away from the queue, but I resigned myself to missing the first couple of songs in the interest of finally urinating. Nearby Apsen beckoned me to relieve myself in a more primitive fashion, but I was on the clock and reluctant to be branded as uncivilized.

“Hello Bonjour” came on, another personal favorite from 2006’s “Yell Fire.” That gal with the 2.5 children had certainly been in the plastic toilet a long time. “We Don’t Stop,” from Everyone Deserves Music (2003) may or may not have been great, or even played for that matter. I was now delirious with how close and yet so far I was from civilized relief.

Ah! At last! And “Rude Boys Back in Town” provided the soundtrack for my return the concert area. First though, I decided to take a load off and watch people pass by. I’d been standing or walking for about 5 hours straight and the row of hay bales looked comfy enough. Though I was now right at the center of the festival grounds (which also included vast expanses of kid’s activities, food and craft vendors, and carnival rides), the bustling crowd of earlier appeared to have vanished. They apparently couldn’t resist Spearhead’s call to positive, beat-driven revolution, and I supposed I shouldn’t either – so much for giving my dogs a rest.

During “All I Want Is You,” it seemed from a distance that Franti descended from the stage and was absorbed by the crowd, song still playing. He interpolated quotes from the terminally 80’s club hit “Tainted Love” which miraculously meshed with the former’s acoustic dub structure.

He returned to the stage without missing a beat, and welcomed Taos Pueblo flautist Robert Mirabal to the stage for a particularly delicate reading of “East to the West.”

A rousing “Everyone Deserves Music” followed, and I had finally made my way close enough to the front to really see what was happening: they had the audience – hippy hoopster and Colorado jock alike – totally caught in their tractor beam. Everyone was completely bewitched by Franti’s charms, and well they might be, for his charms are legendary. Young parents bore small children atop their shoulders; some were thoughtful enough to stuff makeshift napkin earplugs into their children’s ears. The children were also bewitched – clapping when asked to clap, hands in the air like they just didn’t care, singing along with songs to which they couldn’t possibly know the words. Thankfully, Franti leans less on the expletive-laden raps these days.

In the midst of an otherwise faithful rendering of Motown’s “Don’t Look Back” via Peter Tosh’s “Bush Doctor” (1978), Franti quoted “Casey Jones” with more happiness and conviction than I ever heard The Grateful Dead themselves muster in concert. I’m assuming Sly & Robbie turned him on to “Don’t Look Back” while he was recording with them in Jamaica, or perhaps they just helped show him how it was played, since they were also part of Peter Tosh’s band way back when. At any rate, I was glad that, if he was going to do an actual reggae cover, that it wasn’t a Bob Marley tune. Not because Bob Marley doesn’t have the most archetypal and broad reggae catalog in history, just that I’ve been sick of most of Bob’s material for years. I know, Rasta heresy.

I was glad to hear the electric version of “Sometimes” again. Originally arranged this way on the 2001 recording “Stay Human,” I’ve seen him perform this since in the acoustic “Songs from the Front Porch” arrangement more often than not. It’s a great song either way; I just prefer the one with a beat.

By contrast, I was perfectly happy with the next number, a beautiful acoustic sing-a-long called “Anytime You Want Me” according to the setlist, which I’m guessing is a new Franti original since I can’t Google up any responses from the lyrics.

“Never Too Late” reminded me that Franti’s never afraid to reveal that he has emotions and that it’s okay for us to have them too. At some point during the show when I broke away from looking at the stage, I saw two teenage boys (presumably not gay from the way they were dressed) put their arms around each other and sing something which involved the repetition of the word “love.” This was a welcome change for me, accustomed to seeing teenage boys mimic the thuggery they see in mass media, or some other form of alienated, bruised-but-tough guy. The entire audience was joyful – full to bursting, actually.

The title track from “Yell Fire” always get my blood pumping, and I remember thinking if anyone’s not sold yet, they surely will be now. Though, I really couldn’t imagine someone so determined to remain mired in their own cynicism they hadn’t been won over at this point, because I’m usually that person, and I was in. Mirabal guested on didgeridoo, which added an interesting new dimension to a song I already knew backwards-and-forwards. Then Franti pointed out a couple of audience members for security to let onstage – their names were Erica and Denny and I’m assuming they were picked at random since Franti had to ask their names – and they were given guitars and busted out with the riff from Nirvana’s angst anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit!” All that rocking took the chill off the fact that the sun was setting on an already crisp fall day.

Franti introduced the next song – another acoustic number called “Sound of Sunshine” – by pointing out the blazing sunset (average by Santa Fe standards) and stated plainly that “the sunset can cure a lot of bullshit.” This was the only vulgar term I heard him utter all day, and I wondered if this sunset could go so far as to cure his fever, which he hadn’t remotely let on he was suffering through.

He prefaced the last song the same way he had almost exactly one year ago at Paolo Soleri, by telling us he’d written it for his then 21 year-old son when Cappy departed San Francisco for NYC on a Greyhound bus. The song was “I Got Love for You,” from “All Rebel Rockers,” and it really is a pretty song, at least the way it appears on the record. I don’t know if this is a typical reggae affectation, but I have seen Toots and the Maytals do it often: take a nice slow song (or a nice fast one) and, once you get a nice groove going, send it into double time and totally ruin the audience’s ability to keep up. Then, back to normal time just long enough to get the audience back into it, then, for no apparent reason, back into double time. Repeat until everyone, including the band, is totally exhausted. Despite all this annoyance, I remember thinking how blessed Cappy was to have a father who’d write such a heartfelt ditty for him to listen to while he was thousands of miles from home.

After the world’s shortest encore break (during which I presume Franti realized if he sat down now, he wasn’t getting back up without medical assistance), came a spot-on reading of “Everybody Ona Move” (no double time shenanigans) with a sprinkling of synth from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” toward the end, like the toy surprise at the bottom of a Cracker Jack.

The “Remote Control version” of “Hey World” followed. Franti changed one lyric from the album version, and I thought it was a good change: before reprising the chorus, he would say “You’ve got to let go BEFORE IT TAKES ALL YOUR SOUL.”

Next was the “Don’t Give Up version” of “Hey World,” which began much like the recorded version. After about one verse and one chorus though, Franti stopped the song dead in its tracks, and told us he and the band had totally re-written the song the night before and we would be the first to hear it in public. WOW! If anyone has a recording of this PLEASE post it somewhere. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the band will release it as a bonus single or something. I tried to write down all the new lyrics, but simply couldn’t, and I don’t know enough about music theory to say what had changed about the arrangement, but this version of that song was a whole different ball game. They made a good song great and I sincerely hope I get to hear it again someday.

Finally, Franti instructed security to let the front-of-crowd children (he called them "all the little pumpkins") on stage. One presented him with a brown paper sack full of New Mexico green chilé (packed with vitamin C, y’all), which Michael said should help cure his cold. He announced that Spearhead was currently enjoying their first run in the top 10 of the nationwide charts with “Say Hey (I Love You)” (which means all you ingrates who complained about the $30 ticket price should be ready to pony up $60 next time), and I’ll be damned if those 2 dozen-or-so "little pumpkins" didn’t know just about all the words. Franti even passed his microphone to a couple of them during the “song about a boy and a girl” part, and this one boy totally nailed the words and the rhythm perfectly. The kids all bounced happily and sang along on stage while we all bounced happily and sang along in the audience. It was the kind of moment which seemed right at home in a Spearhead show but which, somehow, had never happened before and, sadly, probably never will again. I doubt most Spearhead shows take place at a kid-friendly pumpkin festival.

I did manage to write down some of the changed lyrics to “Hey World (Don’t Give Up),” and I now notice they seem to sum up the whole Spearhead vibe and are good words to go out on. They are: “Don’t let nobody tell you that it couldn’t be done | Don’t let nobody tell you that it shouldn’t be sung…” and what should be writ large and shouted from the mountaintops, a trio of perfectly distilled Spearhead-isms: “Don’t ever give up,” “Everything is possible,” and “Keep on believin’.” Coming from anyone else they would sound trite or childish. Coming from Michael Franti and Spearhead they sound sincere and powerful, almost holy.

God bless you, Michael, and get well soon.

~ Chris “Toast” Diestler

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Chris’ interview with Michael Franti – Hear HERE

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DJ Marcus Aurelius said...

great heartfelt review.


Many thanks. Indeed it was (^_^)