Ani Difranco played the Town Hall last Saturday night, and I was there. My friend Robert Maril, who later asked that in this blog post I describe his hair as "shiny" and "with body," joined me for this, my 37th Ani show. This indicates some kind of insanity, surely. (That's approximately $1700 in tickets, if you're quick at math.) But here's what I think I have finally discovered--after so many performances in so many cities across this country, even a show in Paris: I think more clearly, more crisply and thoroughly, at an Ani Difranco show than anywhere else.
My first show was in Knoxville, back in 1996. That night's recording of Dilate made it onto her 1997 record "Living in Clip," minus the part in the middle of the song where she stopped, and proceeded to have a quite valid, fussy, frustrated and yet especially articulate in a way that only Ani can be, scolding of the audience for singing at the top of their lungs. As I recall, she said something along the lines of "This song is not a soccer chant." She would never do that now, as far as I can tell--and the way she keeps playing Both Hands as the first encore song over and over starts to push her, and the song, into Closer to Fine territory. (Some of you will know what that means.) The birth of her child, her second marriage, and I think the election of Barak Obama, all of this has made her more relaxed. She seems to really be enjoying herself again.
It was dark back in 1997. Things started to get more exciting in the early 2000s, but by 2003 she had seemed to wind herself down into another period of, well, Ani-inwardness. The songs from that period are lonely and cold. She toured solo for a while, and then when band members started showing up again--her sound changed dramatically. Most recently, with the incarnation of the previous two years--Todd Sickafoose on bass, Allison Miller on drums, and Mike Dillon on percussion--have made her music sound more robust, more textured, more grounded than ever before.
Because this show was on a Saturday night, there were lots of younger people in the audience. It might be unfair of me to presume--but lots of them seemed to be teenage girls perhaps dropped off by their parents in cars. (I went to my first Indigo Girls concert in 1992 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta this way--we sat in the very last row.) Two rows in front of us, were a gaggle of young ladies who insisted on dancing and swaying and singing to every song they knew. That they knew the songs is the important part. It makes me think that the experience, for these kind of concert-goers, is not about the music or the moment, but about recreating the private experience they've had in their living rooms and bedrooms and iPods.
If you feel one thing at home alone listening to Ani, you want to feel the same thing in concert--such is the logic, I guess. And because the swaying and dancing doesn't extend to the new songs--that is to say the songs that Ani hasn't released yet, and therefore only the savvy, and increasingly numerous, internet traders know them--to my eye, it's even less about the show. A few times, the dancing girls attempted to get the people sitting around them to join in, standing and dancing and singing and generally annoying everyone around and behind them. As if their own experience would be made better if they were not so alone in their revelry. As Joan Didion might write: "The narrative is already in place."
So, back to the way I think. I've seen her so many times that it feels like a family ritual--some of the same notes are struck here and there, like a favorite dish at a holiday meal, and then some new things appear and disappear, changing as the seasons do, but staying the same. Something about sitting there, in the dark, watching the lights change and watching Ani sing, listening to those songs I've been listening to for almost twenty years, some of them, it just feels comfortable. My brain shifts into a happy neutral.
I'm glad she's delving into her back catalog more these days. She Says, a song from her 1991 record "Not So Soft," has been appearing in the middle space of sets lately--a revised guitar riff and slightly shifted melody makes the song even more lonely, even more beautiful. I almost write "if that's possible." But clearly, with Ani, it is.
Here's the setlist:
November 5th, 2008
Which Side Are You On?
If You're Not