Michael Franti & Spearhead

By Anya Whitlock

Artist:  Michael Franti & Spearhead

Date / Venue:  Sunday March 29th, The Powerstation, Auckland

I was dragging my feel a little upon entering the Michael Franti concert- had just flown back to NZ and the jet lag was kicking in. Half way through the first song'Love Will Find A Way' however I was feeling like life was worth livin' again and by the end I was feeling quite happy about this fact.

It wasn't long before my analytical mind kicked back in and I noticed how flat his voice was in some songs. I don't expect vocalists to be pitch perfect every song, but the balance wasn't right and the vocals should have been buried more on the work the talented Spearhead musicians we're putting forth.

I first saw Michael Franti in 2006 at the St James when he was touring 'Everyone Deserves Music'. Michael had just had kidney stones and despite the pain it was a pretty awesome show and I clearly remember a beautiful impromptu dance he did with a willing audience member. I have seen Michael a few times so had some idea what I was in for.

It's not like I have any problems or even disagree with any of Michael's lyrics, but there we're times at this show I found myself shying away from the overly simple messages "love each other, we are one" "it doesn't matter what your religion is, just get along". It's a very tricky thing to do to strike at the heart of potent social and political problems with a simple message in an entirely unique, fresh way. I don't think Michael has achieved this in a while.

There is a bassey folk quality to much of his music, which is relatively atonal. Michael often picks up the guitar, but really needs to pick up a new one as his old beat up roadie guitar (while looking good) sounds muffled and dull. He strummed it with enthusiasm and I noticed everyone seemed to shine the brightest when he broke out into Reggae Ragga and there was a naturalness to the enthusiasm.

I was hoping audience participation wouldn't be too overblown... At the last Michael Franti concert I went to he told us all to get down on the ground to signify being humble people and I'm not talking bend over, but hands and knees on the grubby, alcohol soaked floor and refusing to continue the show until everyone was down there. No Michael no. This time round there was thankfully no floor scrubbing, but in every song there was encouragement to wave our arms around or clap in certain ways. So at times it was like being reluctantly at a friends aerobics class.

'Sound Of The Sunshine' was a highlight with 30 big helium filled yellow balloons batted about thePowerstation. I was both impressed and dismayed by the very polite kiwi crowds who dutifully returned them onto stage when the song finished.

Although at times I felt the concert was a bit forced- it can get confusing to be asked at the end of every song how I'm feeling and if I'm feeling it, Michael Franti really is a great demonstration of how music can be inspiring, uplifting and transformative. This can sometimes translate in a trite and cheesey way when listening to his recorded music however his live show (if your catching him on form) is well worth the visit.