Live: Michael Franti @ Heaven, London.
Franti, whose music stretches effortlessly across rootsy folk, reggae, hip hop, pop, soul and rock, has brought us various incarnations of his vision of peace and unity over the years. From the sharp observations and protests of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the early 1990s, through Spearhead’s more serene sounds but equally incisive social commentary, to today’s solo billing and unifying, love-centred manifesto.
Opening with Hello Bonjour, Franti begins seated at the microphone, playing a well-worn guitar he tells us is named after a beloved late grandmother. Early into the set he asks everyone to introduce themselves to a new person and give them a hug. I’m swept up into the arms of a nearby couple, and it looks like any last fragments of British reserve in the venue have been merrily extinguished.
Familiar sing-a-long I Got Love For You further heats up the atmosphere. Getting up from his seat, Franti brings on stage local guest artists, apparently sourced from a FaceBook invitation to “conscious musicians”, which results in the beginning of hit song The Sound Of Sunshine being sung in Italian by a tambourine-welding conscious chap called Roman.
By the time we get to Good To Be Alive Today, which, from its giveaway title, breathes yet more joyous sentiments into the room, Franti and Bowman almost simultaneously break guitar strings in their enthusiasm. The festival feeling properly erupts with a rendition of Get Myself To Saturday, when Franti leaps into the crowd to continue singing and playing whilst walking amongst, dancing with and chatting to the overjoyed audience. It’s rare to see an entire room, from front to back, so readily partake of the jumping up, arms in the air, clapping directions.
Such dynamism is so often confined to the hardcore fans at the front, whilst lots of people at the back nod along whilst clutching their beers. I imagine the bar didn’t do so well tonight, however, as I can’t remember much of the gig not involving a two arms/hands/feet workout for everyone. Not least when, part way through scribbling notes for this review and with a camera strung around my neck, I had to stop working because the people dancing next to me grab my hands as Franti has suggested everyone team up and dance together for the rest of the song. I can’t resist laughing and I can’t help feeling genuinely uplifted.
Franti introduces every song with a story, usually about why it was written, including poignant stories about his birth and adoptive families, his love for his wife, his son’s serious illness and the dire news he absorbs every morning from his mobile phone’s newsfeed. Celebrating the good things in life and attempting to combat the bad, Franti’s songs are relentlessly and powerfully positive, as evidenced by his renditions of We Are All Earthlings and Life Is Better With You.
Ethan Tucker, who played a blinding support set tonight, returns to the stage for Let It Go, before the night ends with My Lord, a song Franti says is the “foundation of why I write music”. Proclaiming his wish for a world where we are all “happy, healthy and equal”, Franti then turns DJ, spinning John Lennon’s Imagine and Bob Marley‘s Three Little Birds. All the musicians and some extra random friends, sing along on stage with their arms wrappied around each other and the crowd follow suit.
Michael Franti tells us he’ll be back with the full band next summer before bidding us farewell with the words: “Stand strong, stay human and power to the peaceful”. I find myself leaving with a sense of being in the right place at the right time and the feeling of a bit more hope and faith in life. As the name of the venue suggests, perhaps we’ve just experienced a little bit of Heaven…