Musician and activist Michael Franti burst onto the scene with hardcore punk band The Beatnigs in the late Eighties before morphing into a rootsy performer delivering universal affirmations of life, love and peace.
He’s in London tonight to perform songs from his latest album “Soulrocker” with just his guitarist J Bowman in tow and a few special guests. Drawing influences from Hip Hop, Reggae, Soul, Funk, acoustic Folk and the more danceable rave sounds of bands like The Crystal Fighters, you get the feeling his fan base also reflects this broad base of influences.
Bowman and Franti begin the set seated on stools playing guitars and kick off the set with “Hello Bonjour” from his 2006 “Yell Fire” album inspired by his trip to Baghdad, Israel and Palestine (during which he also made his documentary “I Know I’m Not Alone”).
The familiar theme of love that is the focus of a lot of his songs prompts some singing from the audience when he performs “I Got Love For You” from his 2008 “All Rebel Rockers” album. Franti says that he sent out a Facebook invitation prior to the show to invite any conscious musicians to get in touch if they wanted to perform that night. He then introduces us to an Italian dude named Roman who duets with Franti in Italian on “The Sound Of Sunshine”.
Life affirming songs like “Good To Be Alive Today” and “Get Myself To Saturday” sees Franti leaving the stage and leaping into the crowd where he’s promptly surrounded by dancing and singing masses of ecstatic fans.
Another of his guests is a female fiddle player who’s enthusiastic playing is a perfect accompaniment to all the songs. A bass player also comes on to play on some of the songs, with the rest of the backing tracks provided by Traktor software that J Bowman triggers from his position stage left.
Franti is an amiable performer who believes in audience participation and he’s also good at keeping the crowd engaged with stories in between songs. He tells us about his sons kidney problems, how he’s from a family with Native American, African and Scandinavian heritage and how his adopted family includes a policeman step-brother and a lesbian step-sister.
This leads to him declaring his love for his wife who is dancing by the side of the stage as he sings “Life Is Better With You” from the 2013 album “All People”.
“I’m Alive (Life Sound Like)” from the same album also goes down well as the EDM beats and catchy whistled parts get the crowd jumping around with little prompting.
Ethan Tucker returns on stage to accompany Franti on “Let It Go” and the final song is “My Lord” which Franti declares as a foundation to why he writes music. In place of the usual encore, Franti uses the Traktor software to play “Imagine” by John Lennon then segues this into “Three Little Birds”, the classic by Bob Marley and The Wailers, both songs prompting a sing-a-long from band and audience.
He’s due back next Summer with a full band and judging by tonight’s life affirming and positive vibe, that will be a gig worth going to.
Michael Franti & Spearhead