Michael Franti at Red Rocks captivates a sold-out crowd

Categories: Last Night

Michael Franti & Spearhead with Brett Dennen
7.31.10|Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Since 1986, Michael Franti has been making music with a social conscience -- from his industrial punk days in the Beatnigs to the hip-hop leaning Disposable Heroes to his current (and most commercially successful) project, Michael Franti & Spearhead, which has been going strong since 1994. I've seen Franti a handful of times in an array of venues, and although Saturday night's show at Red Rocks might not be my favorite, there's no denying his energy was through the roof.

Before Franti took the stage, we were treated to a set by Brett Dennen, whose voice is like a cross between Ray LaMontange and James Blunt. He began with the ballad "Ain't Gonna Lose You," leading in with soft drums and soaring, dreamy guitar and bass.

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Dennen's an expressive guitar player, all flailing limbs and awkward dance moves, and he took some pages from Franti's book in terms of incorporating local terminology into his songs and encouraging audience participation. This was our first glimpse of his effort, when he changed his lyrics to sing, "I will sing it from Red Rocks/I will sing it in the street when I'm drunk to a cop." Sweet.

Next, he slid into "San Francisco" while stating how much he loves Red Rocks. "This is the greatest place in the world," he declared, before launching into "Blessed," which sounds heavily Rusted Root-influenced to my ears, and then "She's Mine," which put me in mind of Jason Mraz. He played "The Comeback Kid," "Don't Forget," "Queen of the Westside" (dedicated to "all the ladies" and with firm, porno-style bom-chicka-wow-wow guitar lines), "Darlin' Do Not Fear" and "There Is So Much More" (the audience loved the line about the woman who lives in Colorado).

Dennen threw down a solid set, and when used to their full effect, the bass and keyboards carry his sound. He wasn't terrible, but he also wasn't particularly original or memorable for me -- the music he played wasn't singular or signature enough for my taste. Still, it was a good effort, and perhaps with a few more years under his belt, he'll pinpoint what Brett Dennen sounds like instead of imitating any number of indie-rock acts.

Franti and Spearhead took the stage while the strains of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" boomed over the speakers. He opened with "I Know I'm Not Alone," one of his more popular efforts that features soaring guitar and is designed to raise the energy level wherever he is -- and it worked well; the crowd went nuts as soon as Franti started playing.

He then moved into "Love Don't Wait for Nobody," strumming rhythm on his acoustic guitar while the electric guitar (played by Dave Shul) wove itself into a wailing jam. Although I am not a fan of jam bands at all, I don't mind Franti and Spearhead's improvisational journeys -- they keep the jams relatively short and relatively tight, allowing the musicians time to riff without the sound becoming hopelessly self-indulgent.


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