Ani DiFranco with Anais Mitchell
September 23, 2011
Pantages Theatre, Minneapolis
Feminist folk singer Ani DiFranco celebrated her birthday Friday night at the Pantages in exactly the way one would expect her to -- without fanfare, and through her music.
The crowd wasn't going to let her get off too easy, though; before she even finished her first song, "Shy," the sold-out room swelled in an impromptu a capella rendition of "Happy Birthday," causing DiFranco to blush and roll her eyes about turning 41. "So sexy," she scoffed with a playful little dance.
(At the end of each one of our live show reviews, we have a section where we disclose our personal bias. I feel like it's unfair to wait until the end of my review to tell you that Ani DiFranco is kind of my thing. Own all of her albums, her songs have helped me through bad times, etc. Yeah. I think she's the shit.)
Perhaps because of the birthday or because she's on tour for the first time in a while, DiFranco was in good spirits Friday night and spent almost as much time laughing and telling stories as she did playing songs off her forthcoming album, which to the relief of her longtime fans will finally see the light of day this January. It's the first time in her entire career that she has waited more than a year between albums, but that extra time has helped her to shape a selection of songs that are quite eloquent.
Alone with only a parade of acoustic guitars to accompany her, DiFranco hardly wasted any time getting to the new stuff. After a mini-rant about how she thinks monogamy should be illegal until the age of 30 ("and then, there should be a lot of paperwork involved"), she pulled out a new song "Promiscuity" that put to rest any lingering feelings she has about the romantic escapades of her early adulthood, symbolically following it up with two songs about her newfound peace with love and commitment: the heart-tugglingly sweet ballads "Way Tight," off 2009's Red Letter Year, and the new "Unworry." Another point of contrast was the revisitation of "As Is," a song about accepting her faults, followed by new song "Splinter," a song about continually seeking balance that features the recurring line, "Here's to being connected to everything/here's to staying connected to everything."
DiFranco clearly enjoyed being back in the Twin Cities. "It's a nice place you have here," she said, scanning the small theater. "One of many nice places you have in this fair city. 'Course you have to have some good buildings here with this fucking climate." Later in the set, she dedicated the song "Garden of Simple" to an undisclosed "fellow Minneapolisan," a connection I somehow never made despite the fact that it starts with the line "Some crazy fucker carved a sculpture out of butter."
The night ended with one of my favorite new songs "If You're Not," which features the poignant line "If you're not getting happier as you get older, you're fucking up," followed by a couple of well-chosen covers: The classic union folk tune "Which Side Are You On," and John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery," which she sang with opener Anais Mitchell. Mitchell's voice is quite similar to DiFranco's, just slightly higher and brassier, and hearing them sing such a moving duet was a fantastic way to end the evening.
Mitchell started out the night with a solo set of material that pulled from her folk opera record, Hadestown, which features guest appearances from DiFranco, Greg Brown, and "one of your local heroes" Justin Vernon, she said, noting that Vernon's mom was in the audience. Mitchell was quite charming live, telling a story about getting her boots shined at the airport and marching in place as she played, and her sing-songy voice carried to every corner of the theater space.
Personal bias: See parenthetical above, and also this interview/admiration piece that I wrote the last time she came through town.
The crowd: Lots of thirtysomething couples out on dates.
Overheard in the crowd: "There's actually a lot of dudes here!"
Random notebook dump:
When asked about her daughter, Peta, DiFranco told a hilarious story about trying to "raise her gay" and being dismayed at her 4-year-old's newfound love of princesses. "If I don't come home from this tour with a princess lunchbox I'm gonna be in deep shit."For more photos: See our full slideshow by Nick Wosika
New Orleans Poison (new)
God is Louisiana (?) (new)
Garden of Simple
If You're Not (new)
Which Side Are You On (classic folk song)
Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover, with Anais Mitchell)