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
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
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?