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Review: Jumping for the empty joy of Michael Franti

by on August 14, 2012

When A&E contributor Dan Nailen flew to the Bay Area to catch the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, he enlisted SLMag buds Mary Brown Malouf and Glen Warchol to scope out the Michael Franti concert Sunday night at Red Butte.

Malouf: Let me just say here that I know I’m not the right age or mindset to appreciate a lot of pop music. I love old country for its genuine heartache, old rock–Elvis through Sid Vicious and beyond–and rap for its Eff-You attitude. I love great voices and complicated compositions.

Warchol: I like pop music and Dan assured me that if I loved Jimmy Cliff, I would enjoy Franti. “He’s fun,” Nailen said.

Malouf: A remark that made me skeptical. I know a lot of people who dismiss reggae as “fun” music. It does make you move. It does allude frequently to ganja. It is an offshoot of a religion with silly overtones—revering Haile Selassie?? But, reggae at its roots is revolutionary music. Before it got subducted by pop, it spoke about oppressed people seeking identity and spiritual solace. I’m not Franti-savvy, and I am told his lyrics used to address real ideas. But now he seems way more Beach Boys than Bob Marley. All one flavor and it’s sticky sweet. Not that I don’t like Pet Sounds.

Warchol: I was willing to remain open-minded through the jazz-lite pre-concert canned music as suburban ladies-who-lunch settled in around me at the Butte. Obviously I was unfamiliar with the cult of Franti. The performance that followed is best described in Hollywood concept speak: Raffi-meets-Richard Simmons.

Malouf: Or Van Halen in pigtails. As in, “Everybody, JUMP!” “Clap your hands!” “Clap your hands, OVER YOUR HEAD!” Even the lunching ladies were jumping, a sight to behold considering their surgical enhancements. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Certainly, we can all use the exercise, and I would absolutely recommend Franti as great sounds for any aerobics class.

Warchol: This guy not only whistled, he skipped around the stage. That was followed by a trademark schtick of wading, salamander-like, into his adoring crowd. Mick Jagger can pull off skipping (even in a pinafore), and Al Greene moshes with the ladies.

Malouf: I’ve still got Al’s rose!!

Warchol: But with Franti, it’s just creepy. I learned the hard way it isn’t possible to wire brush the horror out of my memory, so I’ve been listening to a continuous loop of Waylon Jennings and, yes, Jimmy Clliff. It may be the only known antidote to Franti.

Malouf: So, in summary, thanks Dan!


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