BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Fresh off the release of his sixth studio album, Michael Franti and Spearhead delivered a joyous hometown performance Friday evening during the first night of back to back shows at The Fillmore.
Franti’s positive vibes were palpable from the moment he took the stage with his long time backing band. The 52 year old USF grad and Bay Area native is both a diverse singer-songwriter, guitarist and social activist whose music blends funk, reggae, ska and rock, just to name a few.
Released just two weeks ago, “Stay Human, Vol. 2,” a splendid sequel to the 2001 original, finds Franti continuing to deliver his traditional infectious grooves. The album’s melodically enhanced lyrics are guaranteed to produce the urge to dance and sing, a response the audience was happy to deliver during the master musician’s marathon two and a quarter-hour long tour de force.
The positivity of the new release is echoed in the opening lines from “Little Things,” the inspirational first track of the album. “I remember when a bar fight used to be a fist fight / But that’s alright it never ended in a gunfight / Maybe a bruise or two / But I’d still have a brew with you.”
The most significant difference in Spearhead is the addition of Victoria Canal. A self-described “Latina with one arm,” she was discovered by Franti on Instagram during the spring of 2018 and invited to join him for a rapidly approaching show. At Red Rocks. Her description of her amazement at being cold called as a college freshman to perform with a 6’6″ international star at one of the most iconic venues in the world was priceless.
So too is the 20 year old Canal’s immense talent. Opening the show on piano prior to Franti’s set, Canal quickly displayed her immense prowess with stunning piano and vocal skills. The collaboration led to “Flower In The Gun,” the first single off the new album.
Composed after meeting with victims of the Parkland, Pulse nightclub and Las Vegas mass shootings, the pair wrote the song together as an anecdote to the spate of gun violence and bullying that are so prevalent today. “In a world that’s so divided / We shall overcome / We could be the healing / We can be the flower in the gun.” The video is so powerful that it can easily induce tears.
One of the most consistently positive minded artists in the music world, Franti’s new work is further boosted by the reggae infused rhythms of “Just To Say I Love You” in addition to his insanely infectious ability to rhythmically rap lines like “I like to get you solo / You wanna be my Yoko Ono ? / Like Cher and Sonny Bono / I’d never let you go,” on “You’re Number One.”
In addition to performing a significant amount of the new album, the self-described Soulrocker added quite a healthy dose of more familiar material from his upbeat catalog, working the fully engaged crowd, and the balcony, the entire way.
“All I Want Is You,” “Hey Hey Hey” and “The Sound of Sunshine” helped provide even more good vibes. By the time the full half hour encore that featured “Say Hey ( I Love You)” and “When the Sun Begins to Shine” had rolled around, there wasn’t much left for an inspiring artist leading a talented group of musicians to offer.
Still, they joined at center stage to lead the crowd in a final sing-along of the always uplifting “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, leaving all with at least the hope of better days to come. Franti and Spearhead will be returning to the Bay Area with a performance at BottleRock in Napa on May 26th.