SPEARHEAD with PAUL E. LOPES at the Bamboo (312 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, December 13). $18. 416-593-5771.
What's missing amidst all the rah-rah pro-American celebrity sing-alongs in the wake of the September 11 tragedy is the voice of dissent. Many artists are too busy trying to find covers that strike the appropriate balance between sorrow and righteous indignation to consider whether retaliation with deadly force is the correct response, much less to perform songs that decry destructive military action.
Even supposedly peace-loving souls like Paul McCartney, with his borderline war-mongering Freedom anthem, are joining in the call to arms. You'd expect something like Let's Roll from an old-school Reaganite like Neil Young, but McCartney? Maybe all that Give Peace A Chance stuff is only appropriate when it's someone else's war.
One of the few artists to take a strong anti-war stance is Spearhead's Michael Franti, and he's been talking peace -- however unpopular that may be -- at every show since the Enduring Freedom campaign began.
Being the outspoken critic is nothing new for Franti, who was shouting conscious rhymes with the Beatnigs before he settled into his current Gil Scott-Heron-inspired flow with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
Only the job was much easier for Franti when he could direct his rage at oil-spilling corporations and have the whole audience behind him. Things aren't so clear-cut now that he's second-guessing American foreign policy onstage and singing provocative new compositions like Bomb The World.
Evidently, not everyone has been happy to join in on the chorus of You Can Bomb The World To Pieces But You Can't Bomb It Into Peace at his recent shows opening for Blues Traveler.
"That song has been getting a strong reaction," admits Franti from a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. "Some people stand up and cheer loudly at the ideas expressed, while some others yell, 'Go back to Afghanistan!'
"But I don't think I'm dividing the audience. I get the feeling I'm helping to galvanize the crowd for peace. Whenever a few people start booing, there are many more who cheer even louder over top."
Surely, Franti can't be the only person with a microphone who doesn't believe that levelling a country from mosques to mountains will somehow bring a swift and decisive end to international terrorism. So where are all the others?
Well, they're out there -- they just aren't appearing on highly publicized benefit discs and network television broadcasts. If there were even a hint of a media conspiracy, Franti would be all over it, but in this case he considers it business as usual.
"The corporate media is there to push the agenda of the sponsors, and many of those sponsors are weapons manufacturers. So it stands to reason that you won't get a diversity of opinions on television.
"We performed two songs during a live taping of the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn show recently. One of them was Bomb The World, and it got a standing ovation from the studio audience. But when the show was broadcast, they didn't air that song. They told me they could only use one song and they'd probably air the other at some later date. We'll see.
"It really is a strange time we're living in when saying 'Don't kill people' is considered a radical point of view."