Burning Spear, The Creek won”t rise for now, Heart of gold

Oct 16, 2007 at 5:31 pm

Thursday, Oct. 18

Michael Franti: Photo by Megan Gentile
Michael Franti: Photo by Megan Gentile
Even the most stiff and jaundiced of audience dorks will be slinky and jumping when Michael Franti and his band Spearhead are having a good night. The stage is all set for that to happen at the Brown Theatre (315 W. Broadway, 584-7777) Thursday. The all-ages show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $25.

Early in his career, Franti wrote and performed with clear alignment to socially conscious rappers. As he settled into channeling some of his inspiration toward solo recordings, Spearhead developed a fistful (raised in the air, of course) of strong directions: worldbeat, reggae-dub and classic R&B along with lots of raw rock.

The last Spearhead album, Yell Fire!, had serious legs — as indicated by a new digital-only offshoot live album. There’s a ton of infectious audience interaction, with the flames fanned by coyly lifted snatches of electric guitar and rhythms that are ever-ready with bounce.

Franti is the most thoughtful of energetic agitant activists on cuts like “Time to Go Home” and “Everybody Ona Move.” LEO recently phoned the artist and found that the next album is already well on its way:

Michael Franti: Just got back from Jamaica, recording with Sly & Robbie — the great rhythm section. We’ve also been recording in San Francisco with (engineer) Matt Wallace … so the record that results will be sort of a hybrid.
LEO: That’s not new to you, of course …
MF: We’ve always been inspired by bands that mixed genres — like the Clash.
LEO: For someone who comes to see a concert of yours for the first time on this tour, what do you want them to walk away with?

MF: First of all, I want them to have a great time. I want them to be moved by the moment. I want people to dance, laugh, cry and go away feeling inspired to go out in the world.
LEO: Do you get inspired to write songs while on the road?

MF: I write everywhere. When I’m home, it’s a little easier. But when I’m in foreign places, and I hear people talking in English, they’ll say things in different tones, in different ways. I try to keep track of some of that, and I’ll “borrow” how a phrase is said in another place.
LEO: So, there aren’t any of those little phrases from how you heard people speak in Kentucky, are there?
MF: Kentucky?! No, no … but I’ll tell you what: I’m going to go to the Muhammad Ali (Center) when I’m in Louisville, because I think Muhammad Ali is one of the dopest lyricists ever.

Saturday, Oct. 20

Nickel Creek: Photo by Danny Clinch
Nickel Creek: Photo by Danny Clinch
Sean Watkins seems to have the world at his feet. He’s in Nickel Creek — likely the best acoustic ensemble of the last decade — and the guitarist also finds time to make solo records that let him experiment with new musical directions and have earned fine notices. But a few months ago, Nickel Creek announced that their current tour would be followed by a hiatus of unknown length. As in, Adios until we feel like reassembling.

So when the progressive bluegrass-and-then-some trio plays the Brown Theatre (315 W. Broadway, 584-7777) on Saturday, there’s reason to celebrate and wish ’em well — but also cause for a sad tear or two (even though they’ve got a comedian opening). They’re calling this the “Farewell (For Now) Tour,” and Sean Watkins told LEO, “It’s a good point to jump off. We’d played together 19 years, and renewal of our contract would’ve meant eight or 10 more.”

The cause for the hiatus isn’t tense emotional conflict. In fact, the guitarist counters that “it’s very calculated,” and he cites a slightly relaxed schedule over the last year as pointing the way. “I’ve been able to stretch my creative legs a lot from being more at home.”

Then he begins a list of collaborations (a full album with John Forman already in the can, an eight-member ensemble with Benmont Tench, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher itching to hit the studio) and it becomes clear that we’ll just have to let Sean, fiddler-sister Sara and mandolinist Chris Thile have their way. Nickel Creek leaves in its wake a new best-of with live tracks and DVD extras (Reasons Why) and a lot of fans who think that if it is indeed over after nearly two decades, the end still came too soon. Tickets are $25.

Thursday, Oct. 18
Ponieheart is the name of an act that now has one member — Paul Fugazotto II — who came out of the group that eventually became Brightblack Morning Light.

His music mixes a classic bittersweet/delicate acoustic singer-songwriter sound with deftly sketched, dynamic electronics. He’s sometimes had a couple of players expanding the accompaniment, but at Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge (1004 E. Oak St., 637-9315) on Thursday night, he says, “it’s me, and iPod, a 202 sampler and the guitar. I don’t want it to be too karaoke, so I don’t put on record anything I can’t reasonably sound like onstage.”

On the Ponieheart MySpace profile, the list of influences consists of one unexpected entry: Carole King. Fugazotto is ready to open up to more when asked, though: “Rebecca Gates of Spinanes shaped my music a lot. Helmet shaped the way I played guitar. And Rush! I was into Rush early — before puberty. So as my voice changed, I learned to keep it high like Geddy Lee.”

In these days of Iron & Wine, it isn’t so surprising what one central acoustic player and a lot of imagination can bring about. So are the songs written over beats, as in so much of hip hop?
Not this time: “In the end, rhythm is where I’ll add or subtract. The songs, I work them out in my head, memorize and play them on guitar for months.”

The results for Ponieheart aren’t too far from the twilight-and-outskirts alt-folk of a quieter Will Oldham. The show at Lisa’s starts at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday night, with $5 tickets.

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