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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Ani DiFranco Singing Solo Is No 'Puddle Dive'

Author: Megan Crouch

The scene at Burlington's Flynn Theater last Wednesday night included a girl, a guitar and a Persian rug. Conspicuously absent were the drum set, guitar amplifiers, keyboard and even the brass section that fans of Ani DiFranco have come to expect at her shows.

At one point she put down the guitar and offered us her bare voice. If I was the least bit skeptical that the DiFranco solo tour would be as upbeat and musically dizzying as those on which her band plays, my doubts left the minute I saw her leap onto the stage, strumming so hard her strings threatened to break. The show was more personal because she was all alone. She did not have anyone to joke with and tease onstage, so she told us stories and made fun of the annoying fans screaming "I love you, Ani!"

The gleefully shocking Dan Bern opened the show. His most entertaining song was called "I've Got Big Balls," in which he compared the size of his testicles to both small dogs and tractor tires. In another song about dreams and aspirations, Bern sang about his friend whose only goal in life was to "go down on Madonna." In keeping with the theme of the tour, Bern also stood alone on stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar. I heard the words "Dylan" and "Guster" from the row behind me several times throughout his performance, and indeed, Bern's raspy, throaty voice did faintly sound like a cross between Bob Dylan's earlier work and the vocalists of the band Guster. However, his lyrics were the main attraction of the performance, and by the time DiFranco took the stage, much of the audience was laughing at his heavily sexual, yet somehow boyish audacity.

DiFranco bounded onto the stage in her requisite black tank top, cargo pants and huge platform shoes, strumming and staggering around to "Fuel." Surprisingly, she played several songs from her album "Puddle Dive" (1993), including "Names and Dates and Times," "God's Country" and the spoken-word piece "My I.Q." She also picked a few from 1998's album "Little Plastic Castle," including "As Is," for which she lamented her bands' absence because she just could not seem to find the right chord. She also performed the heart-wrenching "4th of July."

Then there were the classic, "get-up-and-dance" DiFranco favorites, "Shy," "Fire Door" and the slower "Not a Pretty Girl." She also mixed in the song "Your Next Bold Move" from last year's album "Revelling and Reckoning."

In the middle of the show we were treated to four new songs, for which the audience was uncharacteristically still and quiet. Looking around at the crowd as she played these songs, people were leaning forward in their seats, transfixed and open-mouthed — it was as if they were all straining to take in this new taste of DiFranco's music. Some of these brand new songs were harsh and angry, and others were filled with the soft, wry bits of introspection characteristic of "Out of Range" (1994) and "Not a Pretty Girl" (1995).

The most powerful part of the show was the moment DiFranco put down her guitar and slowly crept up to the microphone, completely exposed and alone on stage. She started to tell a story in a quiet, sorrowful voice. It took a few minutes to realize she was performing her as-yet untitled poem inspired by the events of Sept. 11.

What was mesmerizing about the poem, besides the astounding command of language that it exhibited, was how well DiFranco blended the tragedy of the attacks with her protest against our nation's reaction to them. She was shouting and crying at the same time, loving the fallen and hating George W. Bush, toasting protest and insulting a false democracy. Always politically charged, DiFranco at times treated the attacks metaphorically and expanded into the realms of abortion, human rights and capital punishment. At the end of the poem, many were crying and some were annoyed, but we all stood up to give her a standing ovation.

More so than in past shows, DiFranco talked back and told stories to the audience. She complimented Vermont for its civil union laws, and reported a special fondness for Burlington because it is the hometown of the Mistress of Merch, and mysteriously left it at that.

Later, by request, she recounted an experience while living in the meatpacking district of New York City, where her first apartment was a former S & M bar called "The Toilet." She told us that she had mistaken the transvestite prostitutes in the streets below for women, until she noticed their hairy forearms, and "…was like, waaaiit a minute…," and also that her apartment had come complete with a metal cage and two handcuffs, which she only used as a bookshelf.

At the end of the show, DiFranco graciously thanked us for being such a good audience and admitted she had been a little scared to get up and play by herself. The audience, pleased with her performance, responded by clapping and cheering for an encore.

For fans that missed the Burlington show and want to see DiFranco this spring, her solo tour is winding down in Northampton, Mass. this week and her "Spring Band" tour includes a stop in Providence, R.I. on April 20.