I caught Michael Franti and Spearhead in Seattle last month when they took part in a week of benefit concerts called Groundwork 2001, aiding a U.N. program that provides farmers with the basics to fight hunger: seeds, hoes, bicycles with water buckets and such. Despite a bitchen roster (with Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Emmylou Harris and others), the shows (archived at www.groundwork2001.org) didn't attract much attention amid all the New York benefits and the media focus on anthrax and our bombing of Afghanistan—where last week, incidentally, our bombs hit trucks carrying 330 tons of U.N. food aid. Oh, well.
There were oodles of other fine acts, but Spearhead's performance really got to me. Indeed, their show was one of the very few things in these recent horrific months to make me feel there's hope for humanity, and—as they used to say on American Bandstand—you can dance to them, too.
If you've heard Franti's previous bands, the Beatnigs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, you know he's capable of working up a good head of anger. While his lyrics still rail against social injustice and bullshit, the six-foot-six Franti nowadays seems more intent on winning people over than on pissing them off.
It's the peace-and-love stuff again, which these days seems to qualify as a radical notion. "You can chase down all our enemies/Bring them to their knees/You can bomb the world into pieces/But you can't bomb the world into peace," Franti sang in Seattle on "Bomb Da World." He introduced the song by saying Americans need to rally together but cautioned, "If we unify behind the flag in the name of revenge and hatred, we'll tear the whole world apart. I feel the best way to honor the dead is to work for peace and justice."
Franti is one of the most charismatic performers since Bob Marley (how many other rappers lead their audience in a group hug?), and his band's amalgam of hip-hop, reggae, jazz and other handy elements is some of the most bracing and embracing music on the planet. They don't just sing about a better world but cobble it together right there onstage via firecracker drummer Mannars Itiene, guitarist Dave Shul, bassist Carl Young, keyboardist Kevin Choice, vocalist Goapele Mohlabane and rapper/human beat box Radio Active.
They're opening for Blues Traveler, about whom I've got dick to say but will anyway: last time I saw them, they sounded like a band that had, to a man, traded their souls for a jar of frantic pills. I mean, they had a zillion notes going everywhere but home and couldn't swing if they were on a noose. I'd like to think everyone can change for the better, so maybe give 'em a couple of songs before heading home.
By way of a juncture, I might note that I once witnessed the Fabulous Thunderbirds' singer/harpist extraordinaire Kim Wilson asked by a dopey DJ if he had been influenced by Blues Traveler John Popper's frenetic harp work. The gentlemanly Wilson delivered what was probably the most succinct "no" I've heard.
Maybe it's the tryptophan in the turkey, but there has always been a mess of blues happening locally around Thanksgiving. Wilson, for example, is bringing his side project blues band to the House of Blues on Thursday, Nov. 29, sharing the bill with the equally estimable James Harman. In what's sort of the musical version of wife-swapping, Wilson's T-Birds cohort Kid Ramos will be doing guitar duty with his old bandleader Harman at this show.
That same night, B.B. King is at the Sun Theatre. He recently turned 76. He performs seated these days. He may not be entirely what he once was. And you know what? You're an utter fool if you haven't seen him and don't now because his performances still make it clear he was one of the musical giants of the last century. King sings and plays with more fire, finesse, originality and immediacy than most younger players even suspect is possible. King may live forever, but you're going to die someday, and you'd better see him first.
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Those of you lucky enough to have picked up this Weekly the day before Thanksgiving can still get in on tonight's (Nov. 21) Long Beach Golden Sails Hotel's annual Battle of the Blues Harps, with Harman(with Ramosagain), Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, Johnny Dyer, Juke Logan, Sugar Ray Norciaand Johnny Rover. There will doubtless be blood, teeth and harmonica reeds all over the place.
Though I'd recommend seeing Spearhead on Sunday, there are also three good reasons to while away the day at the Blue Caf. Bourbon Jones does its weekly gospel-blues thing from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., immediately followed by the always super-lit Chris Gaffney and the Cold Hard Facts until 9 p.m., when the baton passes to James Intveld, who in any just universe would be famous as fuck by now, what with his tremendous songs, voice, musicianship and looks.
Is Robin Trower blues? Given that he typically makes tortured fish-on-a-hook faces while he solos, I'd say so. Once the unassuming guitarist with Procol Harum, Trower got whacked big time with the Hendrix stick, and since the early '70s has been an estimable stylist on his own, with a tense, emotional style. He's at the Galaxy Concert Theatre on Sunday and the Coach House on Monday, where the stage will perhaps still be festooned with foreskins, ball sacks and the like from the Genitorturers' show there Saturday. Are the Genitorturers blues? If you're pulled onstage and have your testes sliced sac-less only to have the audience go, "That's so 1990s," I suppose that, too, is blues.
Michael Franti and Spearheadand Blues Traveler perform at the Sun Theatre, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700; www.sun-theatre.com. Sun., 8 p.m. $27.50. All ages; Kim Wilson & His Blues Band, James Harman, and Kid Ramos play at House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Thurs., Nov. 29, 7 p.m. $15. All ages;B.B. King plays at the Sun Theatre. Thurs., Nov. 29, 8 p.m. $65. All ages; The Battle of the Blues Harps XIII at Golden Sails Hotel, Crystal Ballroom, 6285 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 596-1631 or (562) 498-6942. Nov. 21, 7 p.m. $20-$30. 21+; Bourbon Jones, Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts, and James Intveld perform at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111; www.thebluecafe.com. Sun. Bourbon Jones, 12:30 p.m.; Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts, 5:30 p.m.; James Intveld, 10 p.m. Call for cover. 21+;Robin Trowerplays the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Sun., 8 p.m. $22.50. All ages; and at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Mon., 8 p.m. $22.50. All ages;Genitorturers perform at the Coach House. Sat., 8 p.m. $15. All ages.