Michael Franti & Spearhead Lively Up Times Square
Michael Franti & Spearhead Lively Up Times Square at the Playstation Theater – July 15, 2016
Michael Franti has a great attitude; he emanates positivity. His live shows are love-ins. That was especially true last week Friday at the Playstation Theater in Times Square as a second stage was set up in the middle of the 2,100 person capacity house. It made it twice as intimate and the barefooted rocker covered almost every inch of the place, moving through the crowd, interacting, and connecting with his fans.
Soulrocker, released last month is the ninth album since 94 from Michael Franti & Spearhead. It was put together in Miami at Circle House. Franti got turned on to Bob Marley at age fifteen and reggae has been part of his palette ever since. A chance to hang with the the guys of Inner Circle who own Circle House further flavored the new album. Franti invited a pair of producers, Supa Dups and Di Genius, to help him craft the record. Supa Dups concentrated on the beats while Di Genius was focused on the melodies including the bass lines. This freed Franti to do what he does best, write lyrics and sing while playing acoustic guitar. Not only does this play to his strength in the studio but it appeals to him as an artist who is all about bringing people together whether it be from on a stage or off. Franti is a one-man mission of peace when he steps on to the street with his acoustic like he did in war torn countries of the Middle East as seen in his documentary film I Know I’m Not Alone. The peace he addressed on Friday was primarily the domestic Black Lives Matter/police kind. With family on both sides of that slash mark, and with the atmosphere of inclusion and celebration at his performance, he seemed maybe the best person to cool down the violent summer of ’16.
When I asked about the electronic elements, Franti reminded me that they’ve always been in his tool kit as exhibited in his early nineties work as a member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. That group included Charlie Hunter who has gone on to a rewarding career as a solo artist as well. Franti spoke about the effect that Kraftwerk’s 1977 album Trans-Europe Express had on him. He copped a seven inch from non-commercial radio station KDVS in Davis, California and it became the first album he ever owned and listened to repeatedly. The hypnotic loops and rhythms of Kraftwerk that tend to start simply before evolving to sophisticated arrangements opened some doors in his mind.