If I’m not mistaken, March 29th, 2002 was the first time I ever saw Michael Franti (and in this case his band Spearhead), something I went on to do hundreds of times, or so it seems. In any case, this was when my enthusiasm for the big man was strong and I was still several shows away from (how you) feeling like I was seeing a towering, soulful cliché.
(Okay, that’s not at all fair; I never saw Michael Franti get to the point of cliché, but he certainly did have a short list of oft-used stage lines that got old so quickly that they turned into a drinking game. If you’ve seen him more than once you know what I’m talking about. You know you do.)
I had been a pedestrian fan of Spearhead – a friend’s girlfriend was a manic fan so I had heard my share – and was happy to join a bunch of friends at Babylon for the show. The big U-shaped bar was packed tight, even for the completely unknown opener K-os, who was great. It’s funny to think that he’s an arena headliner nowadays but after his quality set that night I can see why. Also on the bill was the much better-known Saul Williams, who also put in a solid forty-five in front of an appreciative crowd.
When MF and Spearhead hit the stage the audience was pretty juicy, and when he inundated us with a barrage of undeniably groovy grooves we all got juicier. In no time at all our dreaded host had us eating out of his hands. There was an inordinate amount of musical Simon Says going on, and his favourite command was unquestionably “Everybody jump!” And when he said “jump” we all jumped.
He said it a lot, and we never tired of it.
As a matter of fact, I vividly remember a point mid-show when Michael Franti had encouraged us to stoop lower, and lower, and lower, until the whole crowd was hunched down as close to the sticky floor as we could get. We all knew the “jump!” was coming, but like a pre-schooler cranking up a Jack-in-the-box the expectation and realization of what was coming did nothing to undermine the shock, surprise and excitement we all felt when we were all sprung towards the ceiling. It was nothing less than a gleeful, glorious, near-religious physical exultation.
And just at the exact moment when the release finally did come I happened to look back towards the bar and I saw that the entire bar staff – that surly, jaded crew who refused to raise as much as an eyebrow at even the most blissful musical happening – each and every one of them had also squeezed themselves to the floor and just like us peons on the dancefloor they also jumped! jumped! jumped! in hip-hop ecstasy upon Franti’s command.
I was amazed. His power over even the sober, working event staff actually made me look towards the stage with a little extra respect.
The whole show was fantastic, and how was I feeling (you might ask) when I walked out of the bar that night? I was feeling like a Spearhead fan, that’s how I was feeling.