Michael Franti skipped across the floor of the Sprint Center Monday night where just two weeks earlier, the KU men’s basketball team had celebrated winning the Big 12 Championship tournament. Displaying style and grace, Franti picked up young fans as he went, towing them along like a modern Pied Piper. Back on stage, Franti handed out extra guitars to his new followers letting them play real-life Guitar Hero, and one young boy made the most of his moment of glory with true air-guitar trained style.
That was one of a number of forays off the stage and into the audience that helped make Michael Franti and Spearhead’s show one of the best Laura and I have seen in some time. Neither of us is that big into hip-hop or reggae music that forms the overtone of Franti’s music, but we truly were taken with the energy he and his band brought to the stage. Worn out from the previous week’s work in Oklahoma City, Franti brought both of us back to life. Listening to the band’s music on iTunes proved that their show’s excitement is hard to reproduce in studio recordings.
Plus, you can’t watch Franti prance around in bare feet. Seems the very earth conscious musician decided to give up wearing shoes in 2000 and only wears flip flops as needed to eat in restaurants or travel on airplanes. He did seem unbound and seemingly floated across the stage.
The final number of their set was their lone top 10 hit, Say Hey. Franti called for the youngest concertgoers to join him on stage. As the very young group and audience sang along to the simple but thoughtful lyrics, Franti finished off the show plopping his fedora on the head a boy next to him. The boy had been sitting just down from us in floor seating and wore the hat proudly for the rest of the night to the delight of his parents and all those surrounding him.
After Franti’s energetic set, the overproduced show by headliner John Mayer was good but somewhat disappointing. Mayer’s popularity with women had them all hoping to take the place of Jennifer Aniston and heal his broken heart. It didn’t matter whether they were 15 or 51, they all dripped with desire. One young fan was singled out for the sign she held near the stage. Mayer told the audience she was just old enough to be dangerous with her sign “Your Sexy” but also still young enough to spell you’re “Your.” He promised her a guitar pick and at show’s end leaned down to hand her the pick.
And how Mayer can use a guitar pick. When Mayer takes off on a lengthy guitar solo it is so easy to understand why he is considered one of the great guitar virtuosos of his time. I could listen to him play guitar for hours. That more than made the ticket price worthwhile. We just didn’t care for the lava lamp-like screen behind him or the twisted seating in the Sprint Center, which from where we sat or stood, was in cramped aisles designed to view a basketball or hockey rink and not a concert stage at one end. This was our first time in Sprint for something other than basketball, but as is often the case in a big arena setting, the artist tried too hard to impress with mega-tech.
That is why the pure energy Franti and his band brought to the stage as the opening act not only saved the night, but also in many ways stole the show. Here’s to bare feet and skipping across stage with unabashed joy.