Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Spearhead at Camden: An Extended Monologue

Spearhead played Camden tonight

Spearhead played Camden tonight. Yay!

Just returned from Camden where the best live band in the world played tonight (well, technically last night - Wednesday the 17th). They play the Jazz Café again tomorrow night (well, technically tonight - Thursday the 18th) and, except that I'm fairly skint at the moment, I'd have no hesitation in heading down to see them again. In fact it pisses me off royally that I won't be (but going to see a great band once is obviously 'an essential item'... two nights in a row though is technically 'a luxury item' and I've made a decision to cut out luxury items until I next get an invoice paid... a week or ten days away). Seriously though, if you have the opportunity to see them tonight, I urge you to do so. The music is just incredible... and if ever there was a time for us to turn out in numbers to see intelligent and positive protest music; it's now.
Please tell me the reason
Behind the colors that you fly
Love just one nation
And the whole world we divide
I first encountered Michael Franti when he was one of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. They recorded a stunning album with William Burroughs and I'm a big fan of Uncle Bill's work. From that it was a short step to the Disposable Heroes criminally under-rated Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury (most people will know the track Television, the Drug of the Nation but nothing else... which is a great shame, 'cos it's an excellent album. Shit, just thinking about it, I don't think I have it anymore... I think I got that during the weird two years when I was buying everything on cassette and that's one of the few really good albums I've not got round to replacing in shiney-disc format... needless to say my cassettes are long gone. Man, I've not listened to that album in ages). Anyways, after Disposable Heroes Franti got together with a group of musicians from different musical backgrounds and Spearhead came to be.

They blend jazz and hip-hop and rock and reggae and folk and funk and blues and soul and dub and pop and... well, you get the picture... there's a dash of samba, a sprig of salsa and a pinch or two of tropicalia in there too. That it works comes down to two things I think; firstly the fact that the band are tight enough and accomplished enough to feel completely comfortable going into extended jams that never ever flag. Ever. I mean, people were getting up on the stage - complete strangers - and jamming along with them and the band were (a) cool enough to vibe off that, and (b) good enough to make it work flawlessly.
We can chase down all our enemies
Bring them to their knees
We can bomb the world to pieces
But we can't bomb it into peace
The second thing that keeps this almost overpowering fusion of styles together is Michael Franti's incredible stage presence. I don't say this lightly, and some may even see it as faintly sacreligious, but Franti's stage presence is on a par with Prince in 1988. No, I'm quite serious about that. I saw Prince at an aftershow gig in Camden Palace on the Lovesexy tour when he was - arguably - at the peak of his live performances. So I know whereof I speak.

Michael Franti blows away almost all of the "London Audience" syndrome. And I saw him do it - somehow - at the Festival Hall, so it's not just a small venue thing. Also, small venues often bring out the worst examples of the London Audience thing anyways... people who'd much rather remain cool and aloof so that they don't.... what?... look uncool? Is that it? Chin-stroking wankers who stand with a faint frown on their face and furrow their brows furiously should you dare bump into them whilst you're grooving. I mean... really!
Violence brings one thing
More more of the same
Military madness
The smell of flesh and burning pain
So I sing out to the masses
Stand up if you're still sane!
To all of us gone crazy
I sing this one refrain

And I sing power to the peaceful
Love to the people y'all
Power to the peaceful
Love to the people
But with Spearhead there's none of that aloofness... no separation from the music... from the front, right to the back, everyone is whooping and singing and jumping up and down and waving their hands in the air and clapping in time and singing every line that Michael asks them to, joyously, at the tops of their voices... or quietly as he asks them to do the harmonies. It's three hours (and as many extra minutes as they can get away with) with a crowd of people really getting into what's going on around them... both on-stage and off. And the things they're singing! It'd shock The Daily Mail for sure (another reason to go, if ever there was one!)
I don't understand the whole reason why
You tellin' us all that we need to unify
Rally 'round the flag
And beat the drums of war
Sing the same old songs
Ya know we heard 'em all before
You tellin' me it's unpatriotic
But I call it what I see it
When I see it's idiotic
The tears of one mother
Are the same as any other
Drop food on the kids
While you're murderin' their fathers
But don't bother to show it on CNN
Brothers and sisters don't believe them
It's not a war against evil
It's really just revenge
Engaged on the poorest by the same rich men
Fight terrorists wherever they be found
But why you not bombing Tim McVeigh's hometown?
You can say what you want; propaganda television
But all bombing is terrorism
So the band take to the stage and everyone cheers and the music doesn't stop for three hours, and Michael never stops moving (well, actually, he does sit down for some of the acoustic guitar stuff now that I think about it... but the energy never stops pouring from the stage, put it that way). And it's infectious.

Along the way, some bloke in the audience made his way to the crowd and caught Michael's eye. He was holding a flute. Michael helped him up onto the stage with the line... "I have no idea who this guy is, but I guess he wants to do his thing" and the flautist joined in with the jam for a couple of minutes. Half an hour later another guy ended up playing some of the most vibing piano I've heard in a long long time (he looked about as chuffed with himself as I would have looked had I just climbed onto the stage with Spearhead and impressed them with my piano playing; i.e. Very fucking well-chuffed indeed. His name was Simon, the flautist was Robbie, the guest saxophonist was the astonishingly beautiful Heather (and can she play!) and I didn't, sadly, catch the name of the guest vocalist but she was incredible too.

You'd have to be really.
you can make a life longer, but you can't save it
you can make a clone, and then you try to enslave it?
stealin' DNA samples from the unborn
and then you comin' after us
'cause we sampled a James Brown horn?
The three hours seemed to whizz by... they came on stage at nine, and it felt to me like maybe eleven o'clock when we finally emerged at half midnight. The set was very heavily weighted towards the recent stuff... Stay Human, Everyone Deserves Music and the new one, Love Kamikaze (which I only got hold of at the gig tonight... so there were more than a couple of songs I didn't even recognise, but I was jumping along to them all the same... seriously, how many bands get the entire audience jumping along to songs many of them don't have yet? In London!?)

It's great to see that the trademark Spearhead trait of dropping out of a song into a cover; so that you're suddenly unsure what song you're listening to; is still there. Last time they played London, Smells Like Teen Spirit suddenly emerged from the music and rocked like a bag of bastids falling down some stairs. It really rocked. Tonight it was less inyerface, but still amazing to hear snatches of Grace by U2 and a Jackson-5 song and a couple of others the names of which have just been liberated from my mind by a little pot, sadly.
Well politicians got lipstick on the collar
the whole media started to holler
but I don't give a fuck who they screwin' in private
I wanna know who they screwin' in public
The quieter times of the gig were dominated by Michael in acoustic mode. Or at least... sitting down. He told some stories about his recent visit to Iraq which were funny and sad and uplifting and depressing. He played music on street corners in Baghdad as well as in people's homes and what have you. That's a pretty full-on thing to be doing in this climate of bombings and kidnappings, but the man's a committed activist and it's fucking inspiring to hear him talk... not just of his own experiences but of the work of others and how people can make a difference even in these seemingly apocalyptic times when if the bombs don't get you then the cynicism will.

Spearhead make some of the funkiest music around today. And Michael Franti stands tall (literally... he's an incredibly good-looking, athletic and sexy man who towers above my paltry six foot two inches) as possibly the finest protest singer-songwriter-musician-poet of our times. He's not half as important as he deserves to be, because not nearly enough people know about him for reasons that I'm simply incapable of understanding. Why Stay Human didn't sell 20 million copies is just beyond me! And he fires up an audience with such a positive energy that I seriously have to hark back to Lovesexy '88 to find a worthy comparison.

Go see Spearhead if they're playing near to you. It's good for you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of driving to Edinburgh to see them on Sunday. All that you say is true. Every Spearhead gig I've been to has been like that. Caroline, my beautiful wife, was into the albums but doesn't get off her ass to go to gigs these days. Took her to Spearhead in Manchester a while back and by the end of the gig she just HAD to stay down the front just to TOUCH Franti. She was awestruck. I feel the same every time I see him.

Saw them in Glasgow a couple of years ago and within about 20 seconds of them hitting the stage the WHOLE room was jumping (literally jumping). That was the Teen Spirit night. I took my minidisc to record it. Security wanted to take it off me. I asked for the manager. After a little eager diplomacy he agreed to go and ask the band's management. Minutes later he came back and said "Mr Franti says it will be fine for you to record the gig". If you get to the mixing desk first they even let you get a line from there. (recording was kak, too much jumping!)

I agree with every word you say about Spearhead. Truly one of the best live bands in the world today.

Check out Loveisdashit.com for free downloads of gigs.



18/8/05 05:58  
Blogger Rachel said...

I saw Spearhead last year at Glastonbury and loved them, but then somehow managed to forget how great they'd been (??). Thanks for the post - I wish I could have gone to the gig, but you've reminded me to buy some of their music.

19/8/05 21:18  

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