Ani DiFranco at First Avenue, 9/23/12
Photo by Erik Hess
with Pearl and the Beard
First Avenue Mainroom, Minneapolis
Sunday, September 23, 2012
"All right, no more Mister Nice Guy," said Ani DiFranco last night, two songs in to her epic 20-song set at First Avenue. "I want to see if this old 42-year-old bag of bones can still rock."
Yeah, right, Ani. Like she ever had any doubt about it. There wasn't a single moment last night where DiFranco's wide smile faltered, and she had a lot to celebrate: the release of her seventeenth studio album, ¿Which Side Are You On?, playing First Avenue on her birthday, and -- as she revealed to the crowd -- a new pregnancy.
"There's a baby in there," announced DiFranco, gesturing to her belly. "This is baby's first tour. Somebody's gotta work on this this whole overpopulation thing, in case we all up and die out."
Throughout the evening, DiFranco tempered songs from her new record with old classics from her twenty-year catalog. The crowd was ravenous; Ani DiFranco fans are a particular breed, wholeheartedly dedicated to an artist that has proven herself, album after album, to be a fierce and unwavering voice for feminism and her own music. Last night, everything DiFranco said was revered as new gospel in the lengthy Book of Ani.
Photo by Erik Hess
Photo by Erik Hess
"Keep it loose," said DiFranco, shaking herself after her third song. "Forty-two years and that's what I learned: Keep it loose."
She's learned a lot more than that. ¿Which Side Are You On? is an album filled with fewer politics than, say, the usual Ani record -- despite the title song, which is DiFranco's particular take on Pete Seeger's classic. There's a lot more love and contentment in this round, perhaps due in part to motherhood or marriage. Even so, Ani has never sounded wiser than she does on "If Yr Not," where she sings: "If you're not getting happier as you're getting older, then you're fucking up."
DiFranco wasn't short on wisdom last night, either -- or good humor. She prefaced her new song "Promiscuity" with something akin to a battle cry: "I want to dedicate this song to all the sluts in the house. Represent!" grinned DiFranco. "Slut power! That's what it also took me 42 years to learn."
At the end of the day, she's still Ani DiFranco, the original righteous babe. She's less anguished but no less outspoken, as evidenced by a well-timed rendition of "Fuel." It's a spoken-word piece DiFranco wrote a staggering fourteen years ago, and its relevance today is further proof that DiFranco has been right on the money all along:
"I wonder who's gonna be president, Barack Obama?
And who's gonna have the big blockbuster box office this summer?
How about we put up a wall between houses and the highway
And you can go your way, and I can go my may
People used to make records
As in a record of an event
The event of people playing music in a room
Now everything is cross-marketing
Its about sunglasses and shoes
Or guns and drugs
By the end of the show, it was clear just whose side we were on: Ani's. She is a woman who greets the world on her own terms, brazen and brassy. That she seems to be the happiest she's ever been, now, seventeen albums and two decades in, gives her fans something to look forward to.
"I hope you love your job half as much as I love my job," said DiFranco to the crowd at the end of her set, like a blessing. "That is my wish."
Critic's bias: I've long been an Ani fan, and this was my first time seeing her live. I was not disappointed.
The crowd: Predominantly female, with some guys speckled here and there.
Overheard in the crowd: "This is totally a lesbian song," said someone as Ani began the opening chords for "The Whole Night."
Random notebook dump: DiFranco's performance of "The Whole Night" was especially noteworthy, if it's actually true that she hasn't really performed it live in over a decade. After the crowd collectively shouted the "Happy Birthday" song at her, five songs into her set, DiFranco announced: "All right, I've got a birthday present for you fuckers. People have been waiting for me to bust out this song for like fifteen years, and finally I was like, 'Okay, Ani, don't be an asshole.'" And with that, she launched into "The Whole Night."
Notebook Part II: Opening band Pearl and the Beard were really great--and there was a substantial crowd there to see them, too. They had some incredible vocal harmonies and impressive percussive notes, and managed to get the eager crowd enthusiastically stomping and clapping along. Plus, they were like, the cutest trio ever. And they played a kazoo.
Which Side Are You On
The Whole Night
Who Is He? (And What Is He To You?) (Bill Withers cover)
If Yr Not
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.