REVIEW: Michael Franti and Spearhead

Michael Franti and Spearhead’s performance in Sacramento on Thursday, October 10 felt like a long overdue homecoming show for Franti. It took place at the two-thirds full Union Ballroom on the Sacramento State University campus, much of the audience—which included the singer-songwriter’s friends, family and even a former volleyball coach—dancing their asses off, children in tow. It was the first time he’d played in the Sacramento area for a long time, the singer explained near the beginning of evening.

Franti grew up in Davis where he attended Davis Senior High School (graduating class of 1984), before launching his music career two years later with the Beatnigs, an experimental hip-hop and punk-influenced group. After another group, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, came and went, he formed Michael Franti & Spearhead, which since 1994 has won over audiences worldwide with its blend of hip-hop, punk, reggae, funk and (more recently) EDM.

Despite his music’s rebellious nature—thanks in part to the naturally socially-conscious ethos of punk, hip-hop and reggae—Thursday-night’s show exuded a safe family-friendly atmosphere. Dozens of little kids took advantage of the show’s lack of age restrictions, running around barefoot on the carpeted venue floor (as did Franti and many other adults) for most of the two-hour set.

Multiple times during his set—which included a barrage of hits spanning the last decade, including many from his latest album, All People—Franti wove through the audience for sweaty hugs and informal dance-offs. At one point during the show, his volleyball coach tossed a volleyball at him, and he set it back into the crowd. Another time, the six-foot-six singer held someone’s young child, conjuring Rafiki holding up Simba in The Lion King. One highlight of the show was a barrage of 20 giant orange and yellow balloons being tossed around during “The Sound of Sunshine.”

Then a small gang of friends and family joined the performance, dancing onstage to the deep ska grooves of “Gangsta Girl,” followed by another round of hugs and a kiss (which was hopefully to his sister). About two-thirds of the way through the evening, Franti told a few VH1 Storytellers-esque anecdotes: about his mother who adopted him at birth (he’d eventually bring her on stage to great applause); the time he went to Iraq and the middle east to play for troops and foreign civilians; and the time his friend’s mom took him to see the Commodores. These stories slowed the pace down a bit, but heavy bass and upbeat songs quickly got the crowd moving again.

With probably the most diverse crowd of 500 people I’ve ever seen, and constant commandments from Franti to hug, kiss, and dance—it felt like an extra-big house party, but with better music and less brown bags. Even a pair of security guards was shakin’ their butts, police duty belts and all. The set closed a bit after 10 p.m. with “Say Hey (I Love You),” featuring a bunch of kids dancing around on stage, past their bedtime. Much like Michael Franti and Spearhead’s last four albums, the show produced a positive vibe that extolled the virtues of hope, unity and diversity.

Stay tuned for photos.

Here are some photos from the show, by Paul Piazza:

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