To tell the truth, I’m not a big fan of Ani DiFranco.
My main reason for going to the show was my best friend, who lives in San Jose and whom I hadn’t seen since January, is practically in love with Ani. I think she screamed in joy when I called her up to ask her to come down.
When the big night finally rolled around I tried to keep up with my friend’s enthusiasm. It wasn’t too hard. The feeling was infectious – not just from her, but from the 900 other excited shorthaired or short-pigtailed girls wearing beanie caps and kerchief headbands. I figured it wouldn’t be too bad – two hours of Ani – with a crowd as into it as this one.
It has to be remembered, of course, that my first introduction to Ani DiFranco was during a summer in New York City. One of my roommates in the NYU dorm I was staying at was a huge Ani fan, so it was all Ani, all day. Now, I can stand listening to something for an hour or two at a time, but not constantly – I need a little variety. Needless to say, that summer killed Ani for me.
So perhaps this was the chance to revive my interest – she couldn’t be all bad.
But, of course, we first had to sit through the opening act. Noe Venable – a skinny hippie-looking chick who sounded and looked 19 but could have been 26 for all we knew – honestly wasn’t that bad. When she sang, it was … cute. In fact, her entire act was cute; even when it was bad, she was so enthusiastic that you couldn’t dislike her. But she wasn’t Ani. Nervous anticipation hovered in the air through Noe’s entire performance.
The main attraction herself, though, was flawless. Perfect. Short and packed with energy that reached all the way back to row MM where I was sitting with my friends. Of all the songs performed, I knew exactly one – “Untouchable Face,” which is off the ceaselessly repeated album in NYC – but it was hard to avoid dancing and pretending to sing along to all the others.
A feeling like this doesn’t just come from a catchy tune or poppy lyrics: It comes from the performer’s own love of performing for its own sake, and Ani exuded this love. Once on stage, she couldn’t stop moving, and her intermission before the encore was the shortest I’d ever seen – maybe one minute long. Because she loved what she was doing, the audience almost couldn’t help loving her.
Her intense performances and the brutal honesty of her lyrics seem to be what draw her audiences the most. The music behind each song has a good, danceable beat, but it doesn’t try to force itself to stick in your head. What she’s saying has more of the impact, and more of the lasting message.
My friend did point out, though, that she didn’t sing any of her “lesbian rebel” songs. Perhaps being married to a guy has given Ani a more male-focused view of her world. Not necessarily a positive view, but less like her pre-“Dilate” years.
The magic of seeing such a powerful woman was enhanced by the closeness of the venue: the Arlington isn’t that large and doubles as a movie theater when it’s not hosting concerts. If it had been any larger, I think the performance would have lost too much of its potency.