Ani DiFranco – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 14, 2014
One word that kept popping up during Ani DiFranco’s set at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night was happy. Whether it was her performance of “Happy All the Time” or her anecdote about an early MTV appearance when Kurt Loder described her as “alarmingly happy,” there was no mistaking the word’s presence in the room. But even her most casual fans know that in DiFranco’s universe words have meaning, have consequence. So while happy made its presence felt, happiness itself, that most sought after of emotions, was in overabundance from the moment DiFranco took the stage. By the time she played the first notes of the show-opening “Not a Pretty Girl,” singing, “I ain’t no damsel in distress,” the audience was drowning in unadulterated joy: screaming, singing, dancing, shouting and, of course, smiling.
DiFranco has that effect on people, and while her own smile was positively beatific, she seemed used to such a reaction. Watching her perform, it’s little surprise that DiFranco pours more emotion and energy into a single chord of her acoustic guitar and wrings more rhythm and soul out of a phrase-turning lyric than you would think is possible. Even her between-song banter was the stuff of Zen poetry: her apologies for new material to come after the old “lulls you into a false sense of security,” and an anecdote about her daughter’s favorite “mommy song” (“Rainy Parade”), and the description of taking a very old song, “Itch,” and turning it into something new. While the old numbers elicited the most enthusiasm from the audience, it’s saying something that some of the best moments came from the new stuff. And there was plenty, whether a generous helping from her new album, Allergic to Water, or the song she wrote a couple of weeks ago or the one that she was working on the previous evening that may or may not be finished, DiFranco proved herself to be dense with songs that are dense with musical ideas and notes and imagery.
As always with DiFranco, part of her show’s magic was the chemistry of the band: Todd Sickafoose on bass, Terence Higgins on drums, and about half the set with Jenny Scheinman on violin and backing vocals. The group was part folk-rock band, part country ensemble, part jazz quartet. The portions with Scheinman (who played an excellent solo opening set) were arguably the strongest, her kindred-spirit playing and singing providing valuable, dimension-expanding counterpoint to DiFranco’s frantic musicianship. The four of them performing “Tis of Thee” was chills-inducing good, a happy-making highlight in a show alarmingly full of them. —A. Stein | twitter.com/neddyo