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Concert review: Michael Franti & Spearhead at Red Butte Garden

by on August 19, 2013


If you can find a more ingratiating show host than Michael Franti, outside of your neighborhood karaoke emcee, I’d like to meet them.

Franti was working overtime Sunday night at Red Butte Garden, where he and his band Spearhead headlined a sold-out show that had a little bit of everything. That’s true musically, thanks to the mix of hip-hop, funk, soul, pop, rock and reggae delivered by Franti and his rock-solid band. And that’s true environmentally, with the show attracting everyone from darling children–called on stage by Franti at one point to wave signs marked with song lyrics–to hippies, scantily clad lady fans and U President David Pershing, spied grooving out in the VIP section.

Amanda Shaw opened with a fiddle-fueled set that included a mash-up of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (yes, as odd as it sounds), and Franti hit the stage with his band fully ready to destroy the place, as he is wont to do.

“I Don’t Wanna Go” launched the show, and Franti had the audience on its feet and clapping out the song’s rhythms immediately–not an automatically successful effort at every Red Butte Garden show.  “Yes I Will” led into a raucous funk workout of “The Streets Are Alive” that included a dive into Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” with Franti announcing, “We only have one place to groove tonight, Salt Lake City!”

Clearly, Salt Lake City was thankful for just that, at least the Salt Lakers in attendance who were dancing, clapping and bouncing beach balls around the place as Franti and Co. ripped through songs like “All I Want Is You,” “The Sound of Sunshine” and “11:59.”

“Closer to You,” “Life is Better With You” and “Gangsta Girl” pushed the proceedings along as Franti delved into different parts of the audience, leaving his band on stage while he forged into the worshipping masses and played and sang via remote mics. All the new material was welcome for regular Franti show-goers; the man comes to Utah enough that repetition is a danger, but the new All People collection offered plenty of strong additions to his always energetic setlist Sunday night.

“Say Goodbye” led into a verse or two of U2’s “One,” a fine example of Franti’s expansive musical worldview, as well as his ability to knock out a crowd-pleasing anthem guaranteed to thrill an audience.

With decades of performing under his belt, from his early years in Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy to his current musically expansive project, Franti is a tough frontman to beat. And at Red Butte Garden Sunday, he proved an ideal summer show leader from beginning to end.

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