This past Friday, popular fusion band, Michael Franti and Spearhead, graced the stage at Greensboro’s premier live music venue, The Blind Tiger, as part of their 2017 “Love Out Loud” tour. The San Francisco based group was created by lead vocalist, activist and spoken word artist Michael Franti in 1994.
Known for their unique blend of reggae, hip hop, funk and mainstream rock, Franti and Spearhead’s songs touch on humanistic themes of love, positivity and peace while tackling controversial political issues.
One of the most prominent examples of the band’s social engagement is the release of their 2000 album, “Stay Human.” A mostly spoken-word record, the work is interspersed with fictional radio segments chronicling the imagined narrative of black activist “Sister Fatima,” who was eventually executed for a murder her community is certain she did not commit.
Its open criticism of the unjust nature of the death penalty and other issues such as the monopolization of mass media, corporate globalization and the legacy of the prison-industrial complex has solidified “Stay Human” as one of Franti and Spearhead’s most social justice-oriented albums.
This carefree, liberal vibe extends from Franti and Spearhead’s albums into the fans themselves, a fact that was easily discernable upon arrival at The Blind Tiger. The grungy, dimly lit room was awash with energy and joy. An enormous silver disco ball hung from the ceiling, spinning in slow circles. People laughed, talked and danced while Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” blared in the background.
The merchandise area was peppered with novelties and clothing in typical Franti and Spearhead style; a hat emblazoned with the words “STAY HUMAN” in bold white type sat front and center on the table.
The bar was overly packed with a mix of people both young and old, as well as the free-spirited types Franti and Spearhead has a unique way of attracting. Under the disco ball’s swirling lights I saw a woman with rainbow-dyed hair and another with a shaved head – I even saw a man wearing tie dye overalls. As I conversed within the masses I realized people had driven from all over to come see the show. “I just came in from Richmond,” one man told me. “It was a pretty long drive.” Upon hearing this another woman chimed in: “I came from Florida! You don’t even know what a long drive is.”
The night got off to a roaring start with the help of a local band from High Point. Their original mixture of alternative rock, indie and classic funk provided the perfect opener to Franti and Spearhead’s similar style.
At approximately 9:30 p.m., Franti and Spearhead took to the stage with a rush of applause. Instantly, the ambiance changed. The room filled with flashing multicolored lights and whirling geometric shapes projected sharply on the walls.
In an interview with GoTriad, Franti states that the main purpose of the tour is to “create a dance party that is super fun but is with intention” – a goal easily obtained from the moment the opening song began.
Much of the tracks performed during the concert are off Franti and Spearhead’s latest album, “SOULROCKER,” a major departure from previous works. Unlike the funk rock of “Stay Human” and other Franti records in the same vein, “SOULROCKER” embraces the area of electronic dance music, using catchy tunes and feet-tapping rhythms as opposed to the heavy lyricism and dense compositions of Franti’s past.
Regardless of the genre change,the central message is essentially the same – the appearance of “We Are All Earthlings,” “I Got Love For Ya” and “Love Will Find A Way” among the set list proves Franti and Spearhead’s ingrained commitment to political and social activism. “The songwriters I love are people who are able to tell a story to a beat you can dance to,” Franti mentions to GoTriad. No doubt he embraces that musical philosophy on “SOULROCKER.”
As the buoyant electronic grooves filled the hall, the crowd danced the night away under the kaleidoscopic glow of the rainbow bulbs. Between each candy-coated musical phrase, messages of unity and hope flourished, an aura of idealism swelled in the air. Franti and Spearhead succeeded in creating a delightful, entertaining show while still encouraging their fans to “love out loud.”