Just a couple of years ago it seemed Michael Franti & Spearhead had settled in to a too-familiar groove with their live shows, but Thursday night's sold-out gig at Red Butte Garden proved the American Bob Marley disciple has life in him yet.
You can probably thank the combination of the venue and the band for what turned out to be an excellent night of music on the mountain, one that offered several surprises. The one-two punch of Red Butte Garden's idyllic environs and Franti's populist positivity proved potent, and I'm guessing you'll have a hard time finding any concert-goers with any complaints as they reflect on the show.
It's always a treat when Red Butte's amphitheater converts from its usual seated-and-picnicking vibe into a full on, on-your-feet-all-night show, and that's exactly what Franti and Co. delivered to the 3,000 on hand who were raging well before Franti actually took the stage.
When the lanky, dreadlocked singer/guitarist did hit the stage to a raucous version of "Everyone Deserves Music," the joint really got hopping—literally; I don't remember being asked to jump around and wave my hands in the air so often since the last House of Pain show in SLC.
Franti was manic and in motion all night, bounding from one side of the stage to the other, jumping down to slap hands with the crowd in the front rows. Late in the show, he even left the stage completely and waded out to the soundboard at mid-venue to do a quick acoustic tune.
That was after he'd delivered a consistently stellar run of songs including "Rude Boys Back in Town," "All I Want is You," "I Got Love for You" and "The Sound of Sunshine." Along the way, Franti shouted out greetings to the U.S. Olympic Women's Ski Team that was in the house, and gave props to the U.S. Women's World Cup soccer squad. And, of course, he had much love for Utah, a regular stop on his tours.
"We've been coming here a long time," Franti noted around mid-show. "And we never thought Utah would be a place where we'd come year after year."
The show ended in a blaze of fine songs, from "Yell Fire!" and "I'll Be Waiting" to the encore cover of Marley's "Could You Be Loved?" And when Franti asked a crowd of children and concert-goers over 60 to join him on stage at the show's end, it was obvious the man and his band will have an audience in Utah for as long as any of us are still alive.