Fifteen years ago a friend and I made a pact..I’ll go to your gigs if you go to mine. And so it was that I found myself watching the ample charms but weak voice of Belinda Carlisle, while he ended up crammed into a london venue that now escapes me watching political hip-hop courtesy of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

The performance of Michael Franti and Rono Tse that night remains one of the best things I’ve ever seen, powerful hip hop mixed up with chain saws on stage and polemic lyrics covering everything from mass media bias to racial equality, not to forget a punk hip hop go-go cover of The Dead Kennedy’s. One of those gigs where you come out slightly dazed and delirious, but my friend didn’t share my joy, bemoaning it with a glum faced grumble… “its a bit political!“.
Never mind the pact broke down shortly afterwards when the Quo were the next of his want to see suggestions, but I’ve followed Franti’s career ever since (it would be churlish of me not to come clean and admit that the Belinda gig was actually ok too).

Fast forward fifteen years to Brixton Academy for my second Michael Franti gig, and a most bizarre audience. Approaching the gig it slowly became more and more apparent that every single person there was Australian, and on the tube home my carriage was 100% Aussie… No exaggeration.

Unfortunately I was cornered in the queue by a sanctimonious pair who proceeded to lecture me on Palestine, GM foods, and Tony Blair… despite agreeing with most of what they were saying I was overcome by a sudden urge to screach up in a 4X4, jump out in Nike’s, clutching a McDonalds, and furiously pelt them with Israeli grapes freshly purchased from M&S. A friendly Aussie guy on the tube later informed me that Franti plays loads of gigs in Aus, and that support act Xavier Rudd is a bit of a homegrown star.

Xavier Budd..picture by Filip

Rudd was certainly different, escaping from the clutches of the righteous in time to catch a good half hour of his support slot I was initially confused at seeing one man behind a huge drum kit with no less than four didgeridoos strapped on, and a backdrop of three massive tie-dye kaleidoscope cloths. For a moment confused I thought someone had spiked Phil Collins drink, and in a tripped out state he’d recorded a Yothu Yindi covers album.

It was then a very world music stoner set-up, but his songs varied from long trancy dance pieces (think kind of Aphex Twin “Didgeridoo”) to more mellow slide guitar blues. Despite being surrounded with every percussion instrument known to man his strongest attribute was perhaps his voice, which had elements of a more vocally powerful Paul Simon with a heady dollop of David Gray (albeit a David Gray who’s less “Woh Woh Woh Wohhhhh Babylon” and more “Chant down Babylon Jah Rastafari“). The crowd were probably there as much for Xavier as Spearhead, and they duly went mental to sing along favourite “Let Me Be” especially when Franti himself bounded out to join Budd for a few rhymes, and a few bursts of the very catchy “Freeeeeeee…eeee.eee.eeee” chorus. While I don’t think I’ll be buying any Budd LP’s some of it was very nice indeed, while other bits saw me drifting off a bit.

MP3: Visit Burning Oak for Xavier Budd “Let Me Be” (MP3)

…Television, the drug of the nation, Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation…
T.V. is the reason why less than ten percent of our nation reads books daily
why most people think Central America means Kansas
socialism means unamerican, and apartheid is a new headache remedy…

Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy “Television – The Drug Of the Nation” (1991)

TV commercials for a popping pill culture
Drug companies circling like a vulture
An Iraqi babies with a G.I. Joe father
Ten years from now is anyboby gonna bother
” – Spearhead – “Yell Fire” (2006)

The music and the band name may change but Michael Franti will always be a political performer, and thank god for that there are few enough of those around, especially ones with the charisma and like-ability of Franti. Seeming to tower over the rest of his band he bounds out barefooted to the title track of the latest Spearhead album “Yell Fire“, and within a couple of minutes has three thousand people chanting “Tell all the children in the arms of their mommas… The F-15 is a homicide bomber“, and dancing while they sing it. His delivery is less rapid fire than it was in the Beatnigs or Disposable days, but he’s learnt how best to use his baritone voice as well as his rap.

The show was mostly made up of songs from his new LP “Yell Fire“, almost played in track order with a sprinkling of old tunes. While Spearhead were always less hip hop than the Disposables each album still mashed up Rap, Soul, Reggae, and perhaps a little Rock. On “Yell Fire” the balance has on some tracks sadly tilted firmly to Pop Rock. There are a couple of songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a U2 LP, and frankly one Bono is more than enough for anyone. That’s not to say I dislike them, but good as stuff like the Latin tinged “Hello Bonjour” or “Not Alone” are I did on numerous occasions think “oh for christ sake not another guitar solo”. Dave Shul may be a very good guitarist but every time he stepped forward my heart sank.

Franti is the master of the clever trick of getting his political points across without sounding preachy. Its a party with meaning, so the bouncy reggae tune “Time To Go Home” is sing-along Iraq critique, with a Jah Wobbleseque bassline. Highlights of which there were many included the wonderful “Bomb The World” from “Everyone Deserves Music”. The lyrics “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” may sound simplistic even trite when written down but in times when Israel “defensively” butchers a thousand Lebanese there’s something moving if admittedly pointless about the whole of Brixton Academy singing it back accapella.

The acoustic “Sweet Little Lies” which Franti said he got his girlfriend to sing when he couldn’t sleep was charming, and “East To The West’s” reggae meets honky tonk piano had everyone dancing while the lyrics couldn’t be less pop, as “Plummet Onions” observed “Not many gigs can you hear the lyrics, “And one for the Lorax, who speaks for the trees.

The party hip hop funk of final song “Everybody Ona Move“, was a joyous set closer with Franti rapping (which he does too little of) and dancing as if he had just this one last chance to move everyone. Thankfully free of rock influences it brought the consistently fantastic bass of Carl Young to centre stage, responding to Franti’s “I like my bass loudy..loudy ..louder” with seriously funky bass work outs. He clambered into the crowd to join them in a dance, and even once the music had stopped he hung around at the front untill well after I’d given up and left just chatting to his charmed fans.

As a student my Disposable Heroes “I can express more emotions than laughter, anger and let’s fuck” t-shirt was practically worn out, but after much pondering I managed to go home without buying a similar new slogan”
Life is too big to make just One Decision
Music is too large for just One Station
Love is too big for just One Nation
God is too big for just One Religion

I’m no longer a student, and although my ideals and beliefs are largely the same, much like Franti’s music the way they are expressed has changed over time.

It certainly wont be fifteen years before I see Franti again, even if I do wish he’d “rock” just a little bit less.

Michael Franti & Spearhead

Website / Myspace / I Know I’m Not Alone.com

MP3: Spearhead – “Yell Fire (MP3)

The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy “Television (Drug of The Nation)” (MP3)

William S. Burroughs “Words of Advice for Young People” (MP3)

Never trust the word of a religious son of a bitch…
Not with the good lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal

Spearhead – “Podcast about Yell Fire album, and Iraq trip

Visit Berkeley Place for loads of live Spearhead cover versions (Be warned though quite a few of them are well ropey).

Visit Recidivism to down Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy “Language Of Violence (MP3)”

Read:

Living In London Town review the Brixton gig, and take some cool pics too.
The Troops thought… this guys got balls” The Guardian talk to Franti about visiting war torn Iraq, Palestine and Israel.

Global Resistance interview with Franti.

Watch:

Homemade YouTube video to “Bomb The World

Spearhead – “Everyone Deserves Music” (YouTube)

Spearhead – “I Know I’m Not Alone” (WMV)

Disposable Heroes Of Hiphopcrisy – “Television” (YouTube) – what a track!!!

The Beatnigs – “Television” (YouTube)

Clips from “I Know I’m Not Alone” DVD on myspace page.

Buy:

“Yell Fire” LP from Amazon for a tenner.

I Know I’m Not Alone” – a film by Michael Franti (DVD) – £12.99 from HMV
Two years ago Michael Franti decided to walk his talk and traveled to the war zones of Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This wasnt a USO green zone sponsored visit Franti and his team organized a trip that would take him to the core of the red-zoned, war torn neighborhoods of Baghdad, the West Bank and Gaza Strip with his guitar, video cameras and the intent to experience first hand the human cost of war.