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Michael Franti and Spearhead, The Calvin Theatre, Northampton, MA – 5/31

Michael Franti is a rare of entity who happens to possess the ability to unite people musically, and, by virtue of who he is and what he represents. His objective is to make you move your feet and to move you emotionally. The wildly charismatic Franti has been making music for the last two decades- forming Spearhead in the mid 90’s. He has written songs that connect on such a universal level, that it draws fans of all ages who simply want to share his infectious aura and positive vibration. Each concert is a surefire high that leaves you hard-pressed to walk away without feeling inspired, energized, or awestruck.

On the northeast leg of their 2012 “Do It For The Love!” Tour, Michael Franti and Spearhead stopped by the Calvin in Northampton. It’s one of his favorite places to visit and play- mainly because the entire audience gets so fired-up- from the dance floor to the last row of the balcony. Denver-based musician Zack Heckendorf was the opening act and showcased his vocal talent with a jamband-style blend of songs.

Franti’s songs have evolved in recent years to reflect the changing times and his own personal evolution. His latest songs are less politically charged, but still deal with life’s important issues, such as loving and caring for others. The songs on the Sound of Sunshine album were written “to uplift those going through tough times” and have a summery, happy, care-free feel. An eighth studio album is due for release sometime in the fall, with Franti road-testing some of the new life-affirming songs on this tour. He has again tapped into the universal themes of love, human kindness, and setting your soul free with the power of music.

At the Calvin, the ever-barefooted Franti bounded onto the stage, with dreads flying, and launched into a fast-paced version of “Everyone Deserves Music” with an almost superhuman energy, and he had everyone jumping and singing from the get-go. Backed by Carl Young on bass, Nigerian drummer Manas Itiene, keyboardist Raliegh Neal, and guitarist J Bowman, the band carries diverse musical backgrounds in rock, afrobeat, jazz, punk, reggae, funk, hip-hop, and soul, which allows for fun and creative change-ups of their songs. Franti also likes to vary the tempo and style and will change it several times throughout the same song just to keep you on your toes- like a fast, funky country stomp during “Sweet Little Lies” to a reggae-tinged “One Step Closer to You.”

Almost every song has become an anthem of sorts and the audience sang along loudly to “Yell Fire”, “I’ll Be Waiting”, “Hey World”, and “Ganja Babe.” Franti wove through the crowd absorbing back the love he freely gives out, while singing “Yes I Will”, and at one point ended up in the balcony for “Hey, Hey Hey.” Signaling genuine love for all people and the audience, Franti held his hands to his heart and then held them outstretched, while he sang “All I Want Is You” with a deep conviction.

Letting the audience in on the fun, sunny yellow beach balls were released and tossed about during the “Sound of Sunshine” and the kids got their chance to bop onstage and sing along to “Say Hey (I Love You)”, the song they have been waiting for all night. Franti conveyed he wrote that song “ because everyone is significant.”

Franti hand-picked a few ladies to come up onstage to dance with him for the bouncy, lively new song “Gangsta Girl.” Other new material included the touching “Life Sounds Like” and the upbeat “Life Is Better With You” which he wrote with the idea that “we have the freedom to love anyone we choose and love them exactly as they are.”

The concert ender was the unifying “Long Ride Home.”

The accessible Franti and the band always spend a bit of time with those who want to meet them after the show, to draw inspiration from each other. Franti has a magical way of having you leave feeling that you are heard, you matter, you are beautiful, you are loved, and you’ve just been to the best party in town.

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