Ani Difranco played the Prospect Park bandshell last night, and we were there. A few years ago, she said that the worst part about her job was that she had to go to every single Ani Difranco concert. Not the worst fate I could think of. And as evidenced last night, I think her mood is shifting, her perspective simultaneously fixating and lengthening in scope. She has always loved playing music for people--but I'm feeling something different from her, a relaxed approach, a new sense of trust.
Last year, about this time, I wrote this post about Ani's pregnancy. She would have a baby girl, Petah Lucia, on January 20, 2007. The folks at her label--her benevolent, radical empire--Righteous Babe Records, posted some pics, which you can find here. The baby has, I'm certain, changed her in ways that even Ani won't articulate/share/expose to her public, regardless of how all-loving and reciprocal we (the fans) are. After all, some of you will remember when she released Little Plastic Castle, then her most lukewarmly-reviewed record, married a man, and thus legions of lesbians felt betrayed. Many swore off her for life.
Musically, she is moving away from her earlier song patterns, which longtime fans will recognize as that trademark "rocking" motion she creates in her guitar playing--and shifting instead to open spaces and, frankly, less static jerk-y-ness which characterizes (and makes great) the records from the first half of her career. I wonder, then, if motherhood has given Ani a new sense of freedom? Has it given her a renewed sense of trust in her back catalog? If Madonna can pull-off a Re-Invention Tour, then call last night's Prospect Park show Ms. Difranco's version.
The lesbians who defected? They've returned--in droves. The audiences these days are filled with a broader range of types and sexes (and sexualities,) tattooed or not, in various states of fandom. Ani sells more records now than she ever has--and her label has expanded to include not only Ani's discs and a few others, as it has for many years, but more than a dozen artists of all genres, a new collection of merch not to be outdone by, well, even Madonna, and The Church: a performance venue, label headquarters, and gallery/lounge/artspace, etc. And all of this is, rather can only be, because of the music--which lands upon the fans' ears in CDs, bootlegged MP3s (already I've downloaded this show, which ended about 14 hours ago) and those never-ending tours.
So, the music. (Even me, even this, gets bogged down in Ani's personal life / politics / business acumen. No wonder she is so bored by the media.)
So, really, the music:
The setlist was ripe with old favorites. A plinky, jauntier version of You Had Time, (which will appear on Canon, a two-disc career retrospective out Sept. 11, along with a few other re-worked ditties.) Also, Subdivision, Paradigm, Little Plastic Castle, Overlap, and, perhaps the oddest choice: opening with Done Wrong. But all of it succeeded.
By far, the strongest, most historically amazing number of the evening was Napoleon. She's futzed with the melody a bit, and since she can, quite simply, sing better now than she ever could, she lets it loose, holding the notes longer, then longer--the sound erupting from the stage was so full of--how can this be for a song like this one?--pleasure. I could have stayed in that moment, well, forever.