A memorable night at Symphony Hall for Ani

A review of Ani DiFranco at Symphony Hall on November 16

, Staff Writer

November 16 was not your average Sunday night at Symphony Hall. The grand halls that house the Boston Symphony Orchestra were filled not with tuxedos and frilly dresses but rather jeans and dreadlocks. The leviathan of an organ up front was covered with a thin white tarp while drum sets and guitars littered the stage. Symphony Hall had truly let its hair down this night in anticipation of Ani DiFranco’s performance at the historic concert site, and it was indeed a performance to be remembered.

From the outset the crowd was ready to explode as house music pumped through the speakers before DiFranco even took stage. When she did walk out, the concert hall erupted with applause and cheering, everybody jumping to their feet before a note had been struck. She opened with "Little Plastic Castle", the title track of her 1998 album, number eight out of what, fifteen studio releases now? Mike Dillon laid down some impressive work on the vibraphones , adding a nice touch of layering to the entire show.

"I knew there were other buildings in Boston besides The Orpheum," she commented, making additional note of the several statues that lined the upper balconies of the hall in very colorful terms. In fact, throughout the evening Miss DiFranco cussed like a sailor, dropping curses even in the middle of abbreviations. CNN is the one that comes to mind, unsurprisingly.

As it turns out, there was some sort of an election held recently that DiFranco wanted to talk about. Ani sang a "super new" song about just that subject, not letting the continuing delirium over Barack Obama’s election die down in the slightest. "Thank you for your democracy," she sang triumphantly, wild-eyes opened wide. Regarding Sarah Palin, after the song she quipped "I’ve never seen anyone pimped so hard." By the way, Ani DiFranco is a little bit of an activist.

DiFranco’s stage presence was incredible and propelled the show along throughout the entire evening, keeping momentum going and not letting up for a second. She kicks her legs high up and dances around with her guitar like nobody else, and it is undeniably fun and pretty alluring to watch, confidence and pure love of the music pouring out of her with every strum. She dazzled the crowd with "Red Letter Year", the title track of her newest album, a song that has apparently already become a fan favorite, as everybody went nuts on the opening notes.

It seems that Ani DiFranco has developed a very keen ear over her long and high-output career. After nearly every song a stagehand came on and swapped out guitars for her, obviously to accommodate the plethora of alternate tunings that her music requires (cover artists beware). The legendary acoustics of Symphony Hall only helped her case: the quartet filled every inch of space with a rich, full sound that reverberated beautifully, Dillon’s vibes resonating clearly and providing a wonderful pad of sound on which the rest of the band played. Drummer Allison Miller provided crisp beats (as well as the occasional backup vocal work) while Todd Sickafoose played a killer upright bass, really digging into the thing and tying everything together harmonically.

Towards the final third of her set, DiFranco played "The Atom", also off her new album, and a song that she claims is the piece she is most proud of. The song is about Ani’s young days as an active lobbyist, traveling down to Washington DC and (successfully) persuading legislators to not dump nuclear waste onto Native American land. It was a very heartfelt moment of the set, and the song demonstrates how well DiFranco has matured as a songwriter over the years, her unmistakable staccato driving things along as Dillon played lovely little ditties on a glockenspiel.

Afterwards she performed a few solo acoustic tunes.& One particular favorite of the crowd’s was "Imagine That", a piece that stands out lyrically even for a writer as prolific as Ani DiFranco about being on stage and performing in front of a large crowd. The set closed with "Evolve", Dillon taking percussion duties and the opener, Erin McKeown coming back on and singing in perfect harmony. As an encore, the group performed "Every State Line", which was pretty cool because literally everyone on stage was playing a percussion instrument. This of course did not prevent DiFranco or McKeown or Miller or Dillon from singing exactly in-key with one another. The show closed with "Overlap", repeating her often-cited mantra "I know there is strength in the differences between us."

Ani DiFranco seems to be universally irresistible among younger crowds. Her studio albums do not to justice to just how enjoyable her live performances are. She is eminently likable and genuinely passionate about her music and the many causes she has undertaken during her absurdly-productive career. It’s hard not to fall for her a little bit as you watch her dance around on that stage, delivering her clever lyricism as her fingers fly wildly over a guitar tuned to lord-knows what. She is affable and just pretty damned cool, and will inevitably receive a warm welcome, sailor cussing and all.

Leave a Reply