Ani DiFranco – The Bowery Ballroom – June 19, 2012
When you go see a band at a club, usually the differences between the casual fans and the hard-core ones are shades of gray. But when Ani DiFranco plays to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, the difference between the two is like ones and zeros with the former enjoying a top-notch live performance of superlatively realized music and the latter experiencing a transcendental moment, part rally, part therapy session, part sing-along, part poetry slam. There were plenty of moments for all comers last night as DiFranco, paired with drummer Allison Miller, showed why she is the rare breed with nothing to sell but herself and her music, a genre unto itself.
The show opened strongly with “Done Wrong” and “Untouchable Face”—which sent the woman behind me into gleeful hysterics (“This is awesome, right off the bat!”) and forced DiFranco to admit that her cheeks hurt, smiling so much at some combination of the audience, her playing and the interaction between the two. The disconnect was obvious: She’s singing an angry “fuck you!” and yet straining her facial muscles to contain her joy, which sums up the set in a moment. When she sang, “I can do a lot of things … and I do,” the crowd loved it for the lyricism and also because it was true. By the third song, “Napoleon,” Miller made her presence felt, beautifully setting the tone for the great interplay between her drumming and DiFranco’s guitar all night long. She brought an intensity to a minimalism, playing as little as necessary but making every sound count.
While the music was superb, the set was more than just a string of great material (with any missed or botched verses immediately caught by the audience). The banter in between songs was the rambling of a woman with much to say and no fear in saying it, including a rant on “restoring anarchy to New York City,” a long, rhythmic poem that wonderfully balanced anger and inspiration, and a hilarious anecdote about the time she met and played with Prince. New stuff appeared (although DiFranco did say, “The minute you feel like you need to play something off your new record is the moment you sold out”), with “J” being the highlight. The show ended as strongly as it began, with opener Melissa Ferrick joining the duo for a rendition of Bill Withers’ “Who is He (And What Is He to You)” and an everyone-sing-with-us “Which Side Are You On?” As if she needed to ask! —A. Stein