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Ani DiFranco Doesn't Get Personal At House Of Blues

Elizabeth Johnson |
April 3, 2011 | 3:09 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Ani DiFranco (Creative Commons/erinc salor)
Ani DiFranco (Creative Commons/erinc salor)
Even after a more than 20-year career, Ani DiFranco’s performance at the Anaheim House of Blues Saturday night proved she remains as magnetic a performer as ever, but lacked the deeply personal element that defines the impassioned artist. 

DiFranco, who is considered by fans to be a feminist and folk icon, drew an eclectic crowd to the small venue in Downtown Disney.

DiFranco announced that her current tour was intended to promote the release of her next album, but because distribution had been delayed, the eager, enthusiastic audience was met with songs that were both unfamiliar to them and lacked the emotional punch that the skillful songwriter is known for.

The show got off to an overwhelmingly rocky start when opener Animal Prufrock took the stage. The artist’s energy was contagious as she bounced around gleefully in overalls and oversized glasses, laughing through most of the set. But as she repeatedly wailed “La mia ragazza” (which she said translates to “I want to eat a woman”) throughout the first song, it was clear that the performance’s value lay in its shock factor, not its musicality. 

The next song, “Emotional Boner,” involved more actual singing than the previous track. However, on each subsequent song the artist’s voice alternated between strained in attempts to reach ambitious notes and oddly stylized, much like the squeaky croon of a Sesame Street character. Animal Prufrock operated the keyboard while a recorded track played underneath her.

When DiFranco bounded onto the stage in her typically casual performance attire of a white wife beater and loose cargo pants, the audience’s excitement was palpable. Throughout the performance, the packed venue was filled with the sounds of not only DiFranco’s distinctive fingerpicking guitar style or her taut, pure vocals, but also the echo of a chorus of loyal voices singing along.

The set started strongly with a powerful rendition of “Done Wrong,” a highly emotional track that was given unexpected impact by DiFranco’s backing band of upright bass, glockenspiel, and drums. The artist followed with a sultry cover of Bill Wither’s “Who Is He (And What Is He To You),” and a new song titled “Promiscuity,” which playfully emphasizes the value of sexual experimentation (“and promiscuity is research and development”). 

DiFranco also delivered a strikingly emotional reading of the audience-requested poem “The Grand Canyon,” describing her love of America and those who have fought the government throughout its history.

But even with these notable exceptions, Saturday’s set list served to create a performance from which DiFranco herself was largely absent. As always, the singer-songwriter performed her own material, including numerous songs touting her own political beliefs: “The Atom” speaks out against atomic bomb research, while other tracks condemn large oil companies. 

But the passionate, often tormented work of DiFranco’s past seems to be largely forgotten as she develops a less tumultuous personal life. Before, the artist had written songs detailing her own sexual abuse (“Hide and Seek”), and her experience with abortion (“Lost Woman Song”).

Now, DiFranco has a four-year-old daughter with husband Mike Napolitano, and while many of the songs performed were positive expressions of love, they failed to reach deeply into true personal experience. The repetitive ditty “Smiling Underneath” is just one example; the uncharacteristically predictable lyrics describe being happy “as long as I’m with you,” no matter what else may go wrong.

As an artist who has gained a massive following by allowing fans to connect emotionally with each song, DiFranco delivered a performance that was comparatively lackluster and impersonal. 

While DiFranco’s showmanship and songwriting abilities are undeniable, the focus on politically charged songs and unknown, unreleased tracks denied the devoted audience the poignancy that has always been intrinsic to experiencing DiFranco’s music.

Reach Elizabeth here.



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