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[whitespace] Super Chocolate Activism at P-Ville

Spearhead entertains the protesting masses at Palookaville show

By David Espinoza

WHEN THE BAY AREA-BASED band Spearhead comes to town, you can count on a few things. One, the venue, wherever it may be, will have tables set up for organizations that fight for issues like protecting the environment, stopping police brutality and cannabis liberation. Two, even if the turnout is small, it will appear bigger as fans spread out for extra dancing space. Three, and most importantly, the audience should be prepared to dance--this is one big party for everyone. How big? When lead singer Michael Franti and crew hit Palookaville last Friday (Oct. 20), even the owner of the Filipino Restaurant got to groovin' behind the counter.

The righteous nature of a Spearhead show has everything to do with the band's fine combination of hip-hop/funk/Latin stylings and Franti's socially conscious lyrics dealing with war, racism and poverty. And while Franti may throw out some serious issues, the music is much too friendly to bring you down. In an inverted universe, Spearhead would be advertised as the band that young activists chill out to after the protest: "After a long day of fists in the air, chanting and getting my head beat in by the cops, I just love to get my groove on with Spearhead."

In preparation for their hotly anticipated third full-length album, Stay Human (supposedly out this month but most likely available early next year), Spearhead put together a that set included new material like the gospel hoedown "Keep on Runnin' " as well as classics like "Hole in the Bucket" and "People in the Middle." Like most Spearhead gigs, Friday's had a benefit-show theme, with banners of Bob Marley on the walls and giant cardboard ganga leaves peppering the stage. Aptly titled a "4:20 Harvest Ball," the event included a guest appearance by Mr. High Times cover boy and actor Woody Harrelson.

As a frontman, Franti remains a true crowd pleaser, though I wouldn't call him the best rhymer or a particularly gifted singer. Indeed, Franti's greatest strength lies in his ability to tie it all together: the speech-giving activist, the rapper, the blues and soul singer, da funkmaster. In that sense, Spearhead deserves high marks for perpetually keeping the pace varied, from laidback Latin tunes to heavy bass thumpin' funk beats. It's stuff that can appeal to anyone, or as the towering frontman puts it, "This is the movement of the people."

Moving On

After roughly six and a half years at Palookaville, stage manager Dave Morrison is moving on to greener pastures. The last of the original P-ville staff, Morrison will be taking on the position as the music production supervisor at the new recital hall up at UCSC--not bad for a guy who, if memory serves, once confided that he had no idea what he was doing when he first started working the sound and light boards. Morrison has worked 95 percent of the Palookaville shows, and now that he's leaving, let's air out any dirty laundry about him. The rumors about a pet hamster and a disturbing amount of Star Wars paraphernalia in his office are true. However, the one about having a collection of rock star hair samples is not.

Local No Brow boys the Lowdown have finally made it into cyberspace--well sort of. The trio's first full-length album, Revolver II (released this month), is now available at www.buyolympia.com for a mere $10. Produced by Phil Elvrum (Microphones, Old Time Relijun), the 22-track noise-diatribe is available on both CD and vinyl (Thin the Herd Records) and includes songs like "Microcom Park vs. the Luddite" and "Extra Special Existential." No word yet if the Lowdown will ever have a website or email address, though stickers, buttons, T-shirts and other assorted merchandise aren't definitely not going to happen.

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From the October 25-November 1, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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