Ani Difranco Plays Her Heart Out
By Randy Cohen
July 9, Greek Theater ,Berkeley,CA.
...................Ani DiFranco, the folk singer from Buffalo, N.Y., has come a long way from her roots in the past few years. Her concert Friday at the sold out Greek Theater in Berkeley has proven her popularity is still very strong. DiFranco's rabid audience consisted mostly of women of college age and in their 20s. On her last few records, DiFranco has branched away from folk music, adding more funk and rock to her sound. In an era when "alternative" has become mainstream, Ani DiFranco is a true maverick. Live performer of over a thousand concerts, founder of her own record label at age nineteen.
...........Funkmaster Maceo Parker opened and warmed up the crowd with a set of high-energy funk. Parker got things rolling early with "Shake Everything You Got'' and "Uptown,'' a song from his new record "Funk Overload'' sung by his son Corey. DiFranco, greeted by a standing ovation, came out and joined Parker for one song and did some fancy footwork with the band. Parker closed his set with "Move Your Body,'' playing some great saxophone.
............DiFranco opened with "Virtue.'' She's a very energetic performer, whirling about the stage and pounding on her guitar. DiFranco really got rolling on "Two Little Girls,'' a song from her last album "Little Plastic Castle.'' DiFranco's vocal style sounded like Rusted Root meets Alanis Morissette. However on "Two Little Girls,'' she showed the range of her voice, singing with great passion. DiFranco, who changed guitars as often as Madonna changes outfits, played an electric on "Willing to F,'' using both wah-wah and distortion effects to add texture to the rather angry song. "Letter to a John'' was the first "old-school'' DiFranco song of the night. This version had more depth than the album version, mostly because of keyboardist Julie Wolf, who added some lovely fills and a great solo. The crowd seemed to absorb everything that the energetic DiFranco spilled out like a dry sponge. The crowd appeared to resemble the bar scene from the movie "Return of the Jedi." The audience, mostly college-aged, was composed of those who stray away from mainstream culture. Blue hair, tattoos and body piercings adorned most of the audience. They responded to DiFranco's music like bare feet responding to hot blacktop; they just couldn't stop moving. They jumped and wiggled about with cheerleader-like spirit fingers high in the air, accompanied by hoots and hollers.
...........The most emotional moment of the night was when DiFranco played a new song called "To the Teeth,'' which was inspired by the events at Columbine High School. DiFranco, in introducing the song, mentioned that since writing it she had been looking forward to playing this song in Denver a few nights ago, and dedicated it with much love to the audience. "To the Teeth'' shows why DiFranco is such a well-regarded talent and is able to fill large venues despite not being signed to a major label. The song starts out with DiFranco playing by herself, outlining some of the problems, such as offered suggestions for solving the problem, such as "opening fire'' on "Hollywood, MTV, and the weapons manufacturers'' performing sex acts on "Republican senators.'' DiFranco sang with great emotion, and almost seemed to be in tears. Several in the audience cried during the song.
........... Reworked versions of "Anticipate'' and "Diner'' were well received by the audience, which sang along on almost every song and cried out "You're a goddess Ani'' and "I love you Ani'' frequently. "Anticipate'' featured some nice horn work from Maceo Parker trombonist Greg Boyer, who played the "I Want My MTV'' riff from Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing,'' ironic in light of DiFranco's lyrics on "To the Teeth.'' Corey Parker added a rap verse to "Diner.'' Toward the end of "Diner,'' DiFranco introduced her band..
............DiFranco ended her set with a powerful version of "Jukebox,'' pounding on her guitar and playing a nice solo. Maceo Parker added a great saxophone line to the encore, "When You Were Mine,'' an un-DiFranco like ballad that sent the audience home happy and looking forward to DiFranco's next Bay Area appearance.
DiFranco blends punk and folk sensibilities in her approach, while her upbeat guitar playing reveals a clear grasp of jazz, blues, and pop. Her striking lyrics carefully explore the intersection of the political and the personal; they helped win her an early loyal fan base of young women, and DiFranco has sold nearly 400,000 albums.
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