With Haley Heynderickx
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
Great Barrington, Mass.
June 17, 2018
Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 18, 2018) – For nearly 30 years, Ani DiFranco has been firing off manifestos-in-song about politics as well as odes to love and heartbreak (and, more recently, reflections on motherhood). DiFranco’s political protest has always come equipped with wit, sophistication, and urgency. Which makes it all the more impressive that in her concert on Sunday night at the Mahaiwe, so many of her older numbers boasted an immediacy and contemporary resonance that, in hindsight, makes DiFranco look as much like a prophet as a siren.
DiFranco’s “Rise Up” tour — featuring longtime bassist and keyboardist Todd Sickafoose, drummer Terence Higgins, and a rear projection logo with a Futurist design of an upraised fist emanating bolts of lightning — was an object lesson in DiFranco’s mix of the personal and the political. Often the two can’t be separated: her song “Angry Anymore,” a highlight of the evening that stood out particularly on Father’s Day, was both about personal reconciliation with a parent and about gaining a new perspective on the societal challenges facing married couples.
Likewise, “Play God” started from the personal, from DiFranco’s own story about becoming an emancipated minor at age 16, before expanding outward into a manifesto about reproductive freedom and a woman’s right to, as she put it, “play God,” as in, “I’ve earned my right to choose / You don’t get to play God, man, I do.” Tell it, sister.
From the very beginning of her career – and this is probably the greatest misconception about Ani DiFranco – the “righteous babe” (her term, and the name she gave to her own record label) has been anything but self-righteous. She tempers her cutting, acute observations with an honest self-regard, a knowing sense of humor, and a bucket of dazzling performance skills. DiFranco is one of the most unique guitar stylists in rock, playing a bass-heavy blend of Pete Townshend-like windmill strumming and Joni Mitchell-influenced open tunings. Her vocals veer from gentle whispers to metallic shouts; her melodies range from Shawn Colvin-like folk-pop to punk-influenced rapping; and she’s funky like her fellow Buffalo native Rick James and her former collaborator Prince. In more recent years, her arrangements betray the influence of her adopted hometown of New Orleans; “Zizzing” conjured an evocative soundscape of the French Quarter.
DiFranco’s dizzying wordplay deftly combines outrage with humility; hers is a remarkably humane radicalism. She takes a listener on a roller-coaster ride from skyscrapers to bedrock, from Wall Street to Indian burial grounds, with the fluidity of a spoken-word artist and the ingenuity of a Beat poet, such that she renders the phrase “Deferred gratification, you are my new best friend” – awkward on the page — into a catchy, sing-along refrain.
DiFranco promised more insights and reflections in her upcoming memoir. In an era glutted with celebrity tell-alls that speak to nothing more than their author’s egos, DiFranco’s is one book that promises to reveal untold riches of language and stories.
On the verge of her own breakout, Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx warmed up the crowd with a half-dozen of her own songs of generational alienation and angst.