Jackson Browne, Michael Franti offer musical diversity

September 4, 2016

Michael Franti

By Colin Jones

It was a tale of two shows, one steeped in rock royalty and the other in spirit rock.

Therein lies the beauty of live music outdoors on consecutive cool summer nights on the Central Coast. Choices abound, new venues sprout up and this local hotbed of musical variety suddenly becomes a destination for major players in the entertainment world.

You could not find two more different artists than Michael Franti and Jackson Browne. Still, both delivered tour de force performances that left concertgoers satisfied and smiling. Better than a juicy steak and lobster but maybe not that other popular indoor activity.

Okay, back on message. Franti and his Spearhead band are difficult to categorize but their shows align similarly with the Dead and Springsteen as semi-religious experiences. It’s basically an interactive musical journey. His new record ‘Soul Rocker’ fits his shtick (for lack of a better word) perfectly. Barefoot and happy is working for him.

Franti’s all about dancing, letting loose and being spontaneous, always with a heartfelt message of human connection and compassion. A righteous, fun-loving dude for sure, one who spends as much time playing in the crowd as on stage. It helps that this Bay Area boy is a talented, articulate, good-looking musician whom chicks and dudes equally adore.

Franti’s 2-hour plus concert at Avila Resort had everything: ballads, sing-alongs, covers, rockers and stories that invite a cult-like following. While my friends and I grooved at the newly-opened beach club, most of the action was down below on the grass in front of the stage. There was more fan pogoing than at a Duke basketball game.

Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne

As for Jackson Browne, the audience was more sedate but no less engaged than Franti the night before. His nearly three-hour show at the awesome Vina Robles Amphitheater warmed the hearts of the near-capacity crowd on an unusually chilly, windy night in east Paso.

The best way to describe Browne is humble bad ass: this folk rock icon sings, plays acoustic and electric guitar and is a virtuoso piano man, not to mention writing the music and lyrics for some of the finest songs of LA rock’s 1970s and 80s heyday. He’s probably not as accomplished as a Fogerty, Petty or Mellencamp but this Hall of Famer can bring it.

On Friday night, he brought a seven-piece band along for the ride and their cohesion and syncopation were palpable. I usually like to stand and groove at shows but found myself just sitting in rapt attention and enjoyment, excited about what I was hearing and what was coming next.

It’s hard to quibble with a 25-song set but here goes: leaving out two of his biggest hits, ‘Lawyers in Love’ and the ‘Load-Out and Stay’ was disappointing, especially the latter, which is arguably the best concert song ever written. But ‘Take It Easy,’ the classic Eagles track he co-wrote with the recently-passed Glenn Frey was especially poignant kicking off his three-song encore.

Towards the end, my friend Jill leaned over and said ‘we’ve been chilling hard all night long.’

No way to disagree with that as Browne’s introspective lyrics, storytelling and melodic abilities were easy to chill hard to. If you want to rock hard instead, Michael Franti is your man.

So pick your poison. Or both.

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Good review, Colin, but I’d hardly call the audience for Jackson Browne sedate. I don’t know where you were sitting, but I was in Row 7 and we were giving JB standing O’s pretty much on every song. The crowd was also allowed to rush the stage during the second set and we were all dancing pretty much through the final songs.

“Lawyers in Love” killed his career and knocked him off the charts–I doubt he ever performs that song. “Load Out” is indeed classic, but I suspect he’s burned out on that song. I can’t quibble with his set list. Very generous. Would gladly see him again.

Glad you’re writing reviews!