Ani DiFranco is not a folk singer. Maybe six years ago, but no longer. Refusing to be defined by the folk genre her career was born in, DiFranco has expanded her base in recent years while still remaining true to her ideals. She brought the resulting mix of old and new to the intimate Banff Centre last Tuesday, and the capacity crowd definitely approved.
On her most recent CDs, To The Teeth and Up Up Up Up Up Up, DiFranco moves beyond the singer/acoustic guitar format, bringing funk, blues and jazz into the mix--carrying over into her recent tour as well. An earlier DiFranco tour consisted of her and an acoustic guitar. Later she added drums and bass, but the sound remained stripped down and intimate. As any artist knows though, evolution is the key to the continuation. Ani DiFranco has definitely evolved. This time featuring bass, drums, synthesizers, and a two-man horn section, DiFranco and her band did justice to her newer material and reworked her classics. The effect worked in most cases, but some songs did not fare as well.
"Untouchable Face," originally a quiet song highlighted by DiFranco's passionate vocals, was given an upbeat, jazzy make- over. In this case the music took away some of the emotional power of the song. The same held true for "Shameless," a song normally raw in its presentation, matching the lyrical content. In the concert though, the horn section polished the sound, taking away the song's gritty nature. On the whole, these were the exceptions.
The rest of DiFranco's material took new life under the arrangements, and the audience responded. "Dilate" was a highlight, with the added instrumentation pushing the song forward instead of recreating it and "Pulse," at over 10 minutes long, showcased the band and resulted in some impressive freestyle jazz. Who said this was a folk concert?
DiFranco has an interesting stage presence. During her songs she is extremely expressive, and appears lost in the performance. The emotion DiFranco gives to her audience is a big reason why her fans are so rabid. Yet between songs DiFranco acts and talks like a hyperactive child in a nervous ball of energy. Her between-song banter is barely decipherable, which makes DiFranco's transformation during her songs that much more amazing.
Throughout her set a scattered few dared the rest to stand and dance, but it wasn't until "Anticipate" that the masses complied. Most seats emptied, the aisles filled, and DiFranco's raucous rendition had the whole crowd moving. It was a scene that almost appeared to be choreographed. Clearly moved by the crowd's energy, DiFranco answered back, upping the intensity of the performance. From here on in, no one sat back down.
After a few more up tempo numbers the pace slowed down, but not the emotion. DiFranco began a quiet version of "To The Teeth" and this time her political poetry provided the spark. Lyrics denouncing the NRA, gun manufacturers, and the Republican Party whipped the crowd into a frenzy of emotion.
Clearly DiFranco's fans love her music and the words within it, which range from political to personal. With 12 CDs under her belt and countless tours, DiFranco had a lot of expectations to live up to. Tuesday night was not the definitive DiFranco experience, but, instead, was an exciting look into her future as a musician beyond the folk singer.