November 9, 2011
Review by Abby Wood
(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Anybody who ever thought that Ani DiFranco would have to sacrifice her “I am woman, hear me roar/stick it to the man” attitude for motherhood should have known better. Hasn’t the Righteous Babe proved to us over and over again that nothing–and I mean nothing–is going to stop her from voicing her powerfully crude opinions?
Well, it doesn’t matter now anyway, because anyone who still had their doubts (and guts enough to show their faces) was set straight by the singer-songwriter’s performance at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield on Wednesday night.
Massachusetts native Melissa Ferrick prepped an anxious audience for Ani with her high energy, guitar-attacking opening set. Ferrick actually made the perfect companion-performer to a more experienced aworld-weary DiFranco. Strutting out in black skinny jeans, tight blue t-shirt, high tops, and a Buddy Holly-inspired fauxhawk, she not only sounded like, but even looked like the punky Ani of ten years ago.
Just coming off a tour promoting her new record, Ferrick was quirky and impulsive, telling embarrassing stories and bouncing all over the stage while spouting out bitter lyrics like “the truth has almost killed me.” She really shined, however, when sharing more intimate songs that showcased her gravely-soft voice, bringing to mind Melissa Etheridge or the Indigo Girls. Ferrick closed her set with one of these numbers, featuring a spontaneous, serene flugelhorn solo that both surprised and delighted.
Speaking of surprise, everyone must have been expecting Ani to come out playing one of her family-based tunes full of love and warmth from her last album, Red Letter Year, because when she took the stage spitting “Anticipate” off of 1994’s Not So Soft, a look of unanticipated excitement was plastered on every face in the house.
The independent folk-rocker hasn’t forgot where she came from. Over the course of the night she played numerous fan-favorites, including “Gravel,” Both Hands,” “Two Little Girls,” and “As Is.”
That is not say that DiFranco hasn’t changed since motherhood. She came out wearing sweats, no makeup, and mussed hair—clearly unconcerned with impressing anyone. And a major chunk of the evening was dedicated to sharing her contented joy of motherhood, both through songs and stories.
“Present Infant,” from Red Letter Year, explored the wonderous feeling of giving life to a tiny human being, and then being responsible for that life. And multiple new songs were clearly inspired by her husband, the love of her life, with lyrics like “Let me know how I can still make you feel like a man…I’m still in love with you.” After so many years of listening to DiFranco sing about deteriorated relationships, asshole exes, and her bi-sexual adventures, it was strange, yet somehow comforting, to hear her sound so settled down.
But the stories…let’s just say they weren’t the typical my-kid-is-cuter-than-your-kid stories. For instance, she shared with the audience that she ”was raising her [daughter] gay, because I know how hard it is for straight people in this world.” Despite this, her daughter has still managed to become obsessed with princesses, to which DiFranco replied, “Fucking Snow White…now she has this policy that Mommy and ‘pretty’ don’t belong in the same room,” and threw her head back in laughter.
So yes, Ani has become a big softy when it comes to her five-year-old daughter. But that’s okay, because she remains just as quick on her feet and sharp with her tongue as ever when it comes to this crazy country and the people ruling it.
Point in case: the little-known track “Subdivision,” which begins with the blunt lyric “white people are so scared of black people,” which DiFranco delivered in an almost nonchalant attitude. Then there were the songs that were inspired by New Orleans, her home for the past eight years. Ani has been a huge advocate for the cleanup of the BP oil spill, and she let her stance be known through her lyrics; the line “the Dude could be FDR by now” seemed to get quite the rise out of the audience. She even strongly encouraged audience members to fill out and send the postcards at her merchandise table encouraging senators to approve the Restore Act.
She ended her set with “Union Song,” a modern version of Pete Seeger’s “Which Side Are You On?” that she described as a “little song to make us strong.” It’s these little songs that have made Ani DiFranco such a force to be reckoned with.
DiFranco and Ferrick closed the night with a duet on “32 Flavors,” fading out while repeating the verse “I am 32 flavors and then some.” An appropriate way to wrap up the evening–and to sum up DiFranco’s life, actually. Two of those new flavors are “wife” and “mother,” but “rocker,” “activist,” “gay advocate,” and “kick-ass woman” remain just as popular as ever.
Abby Wood reviews music for The Rogovoy Report.