Some musicians spend years in their studios crafting the perfect

albums. Others find their greatest artistic challenges come from live

performances.   For most of their careers, Brian Wilson, Arthur Lee &

Love and the Innocence Mission have been creatures of the studio.


While road dogs like Peter Frampton, Phish and the Grateful Dead

all honed their chops  through relentless touring.   Ani DiFranco is

definitely a road dog.

DiFranco was so eager to perform that she began busking

at age nine in her hometown of Buffalo, New York.  Just as her

parents’ marriage was disintegrating, Ani became an emancipated

minor at 15 and officially began her music career. She relocated to

New York City and paid her dues playing coffee houses, women’s centers

and folk festivals.

In 1990, armed with only her guitar and an arsenal of ever-evolving

songs, Ani began criss-crossing the country in her Volkswagon

bug. Her personal life was as experimental as her post-Punk Folk

style. An ardent feminist, she initially identified as bi-sexual. With her

shaved head, tattoos and piercings, she appealed to a wide variety

of sub-cultures.

Initially, Ani sold homemade cassettes at her gigs.

Her first few CDs were also self-released. Big record labels began to

make serious overtures, but Ani never wanted to be a cog in a

giant corporate machine.

Instead, she and her mentor, lawyer Scot Fisher, set up her own

label, Righteous Babe. Originally it was just the two of them, but

it is currently one of the biggest artist-driven  labels in the country.

Operating out of Ani’s hometown, the facility handles touring, retail,

and music publishing.

Ani has recorded 18 studio albums. Some (Out Of

Range, Dilate, Little Plastic Castle, Reveling/Reckoning and

Knuckle Down ) are magnificent. Some are great and some are


She is definitely at her peak during live performances.

Ani has released   two sublime live recordings, Living In Clip in

1997 and So Much Shouting, So Much Laughing in 2002.

Also, to honor her most passionate followers, Ani

has quietly been releasing a series of “official bootlegs” through

her website.( Sometimes solo or in various band configurations.)

Her newest is a very special solo effort recorded at Babeville.

Babeville was originally a 19th century United Methodist

Church in the heart of downtown Buffalo. It was slated for the wrecking

ball until Ani and Scot Fisher intervened. Not only was the church

designated a historical landmark, but Righteous Babe bought it in 1999

and completed restoration in 2006. It is now a performance space that

also houses Righteous Babe headquarters.

The roar of the crowd greets the listener  on the opening

cut, prompting Ani to exclaim, “I love you already!”  She immediately

kicks into  “Little Plastic Castle,” the title track from her 1998 album.

Both exuberant  and observational, it offers up this little known nugget…

“They say goldfish have no memories, I guess their lives are much like mine,

and the little plastic castle is a surprise everytime/And it’s hard to say if

they’re happy, but they don’t seem much to mind.”   A nice metaphor

for the myopic times we live in.

Ani’s personal life has mellowed considerably after a number

of tumultuous years. Happily settled with recording engineer Mike

Napolitano and their daughter, they are expecting a second child in


Her newfound stability is reflected on her last studio

effort, Which Side Are You On. Several tracks  are represented here.

“Unworry” is a beautifully nuanced tune. Marrying

filigreed, cascading guitar chords with layered introspective lyrics

that chart Ani’s course from impatient enfant terrible  to a serene

earth mother striving for balance… “I have enjoyed my life, it’s been

exciting/And I’ve become more peaceful, no more fighting.”

“Promiscuity” is sprightly and Latin flavored. Here Ani

observes that traditional values don’t always apply… “How you gonna

know what you need, what you like/ Til you been around the block

on your bike..”

Both “J” and “Lifeboat” address  global concerns. On the

former, the melody is so infectious that it nearly camouflages lyrics

that remind us the effects of Hurricane Katrina are still wreaking havoc in the

less lily white areas of New Orleans.  ( Ani has been living in the

Bywater neighborhood since the early 2000s).

“Life Boat”  links a jazzy melody to an affecting character

study of a woman who has spent her life on the streets.

For Ani, the boundries between the personal and

political are non-existent. Four songs here illustrate  this philosophy.

On “Two Little Girls,” Ani weaves an intimate tale of

old lovers reuniting, just as one is in the throes of addiction.

Ani’s words are cutting… “I don’t like your girlfriend I blame her, never

seen one of your lovers do you so much harm/I loved you first and

you know I would prefer it if she didn’t empty her syringes into your arm.”

The angular attack of her guitar is visceral and primal, matching the

intensity of her rebuke.

Powered by blazing, bludgeoning downstroke guitar riffs,

“Shameless” is a brazen declaration of sexual liberation. Conversely,

“The Atom” wraps a brilliant anti-nuke diatribe into a spare

acoustic reverie.

Finally, “Every State Line” examines the inherent prejudice

that remains prevalent in the U.S.  Ani wrote the song over 20 years

ago, documenting her experiences  touring alone across the country.

Unfortunately, the lyrics remain timeless… “Every policeman comes

equipped with extended claws, there are a thousand shades of white

and a thousand shades of black/But the same rule always applies, smile

pretty and watch your back.”

Ever prolific, Ani offers up a couple of new tunes.

“See See See” and “TRW” are both lovely odes to her tranquil

lifestyle. She also includes an untitled poem illustrating her

fierce feminist views remain undiminished.

Other highlights from the show include the devastating

one-two punch of unrequited love on “Dilate” and “Untouchable

Face.”  Juxtaposing   those dire scenarios,  “Lagtime” celebrates

our inate ability to pull ourselves from the abyss by recalibrating

and reinventing our lives.

“Smiling Underneath” is a  sunny charmer. The tune

is a playful homage to her version of domestic bliss. Finally,

“Reckoning” is a pensive and philosophical missive to lost loves.

The album closes with a raucous version of “Which Side

Are You On.”  Ani is joined by her opening act, Pearl And The Beard.

The tune was originally written by Folk icon Pete Seeger. Ani has

retrofit the lyrics to reflect more contemporary issues. The melody

has been transformed from a ‘50s folk sing-a-long to a rabble-

rousing, New Orleans’ styled second-line jam.

Throughout the proceedings, Ani exhibits a casual,

easy-going rapport with her audience, offering up amusing

anecdotes and caustic asides.  Even after 20 + years on the road,

she still has the power to beguile us with her enthusiasm  and


Ani DiFranco remains a singular performer. More

Riot Grrrl  than delicate Folk flower.  You owe it to yourself

to discover her music. What are you waiting for?