Ani DiFranco
Carnegie Hall 4.6.02

(Righteous Babe)

With the nice double live album titled So Much Shouting/So Much Laughter (released in 2002) as the perfect, definitive proof of the work done with the versatile group of musicians who had assisted her for such a long time already behind her, Ani DiFranco had later released three albums that - while quite varied when it comes to the chosen instrumentation - had easily proved that her going back to a "solo" dimension did not mean renouncing those "adult" features (in terms of vocal versatility, stylistic variety, and complexity of the verbal narrative) which make her work a modern classic: hence, the varied Evolve (2003), the solo Educated Guess (2004) and the experiment with group and producer Knuckle Down (2005). At that point, my curiosity for the future of her artistic travels, which I assumed would be quite rich, was very high.

So I was very disturbed, last year, by the news that Ani DiFranco had cancelled her summer tour for health reasons. Sure, the news that the culprit was carpal tunnel syndrome made me somewhat happy (there are worse health problems...), but the possibility of a guitar-less DiFranco (for whom the instrument had been an alter ego) made me wonder. (Thinking about it, it appeared to be expected that such a muscular, typically self-taught approach, so percussive and aggressive, which had been her "backing band with drums galore" during so many years of solo concerts, would end like this.) Months passed, with no new album at the beginning of the new year, as it had become her custom, nor any news about her health. (Funny how we get to know a lot - even their whispers - about people who sell a lot less, but who, obviously, know a lot about how to sell themselves - and who, apparently, intend to.)

Surprise! We have a new CD - but it's not really her new one (her new studio album, Reprieve, will be out in July; there also will be select live dates): like other musicians have already done, a while ago Ani DiFranco started releasing some live albums, available only on the Net, in a series called Official Bootleg. This is the first time that a CD off the series is also available through the normal, "in the flesh", channels. The (artistic) reason is quite easy to see: (very well) recorded live, solo, at the Carnegie Hall in front of an audibly involved audience, the CD presents the concert when Ani DiFranco performed two new "poems/songs" (Serpentine and Self Evident, the latter still under the title Work In Progress) in front of New Yorkers still in a state of shock for 9/11.

An audience ready to participate in a quite apparent way: this recording obviously demonstrates the link between the artist and her audience, silent and attentive while listening to the news songs, ready to vocally explode when the classics are performed. As per her usual, Ani DiFranco is a brilliant storyteller, ready to offer colourful intros, always careful about maintaing the lines of communication open. Her versatile guitar, her excellent voice, a repertory that in featuring songs of an earlier vintage such as God's Country, Gratitude, Names And Dates And Times, which are in a way the equivalent of "baby pictures", easily shows the maturation of a musician that some claim to be "always a copy of herself": just listen to Subdivisions and Angry Anymore, to (the at the time unreleased) In The Way and Second Intermission (both later on Evolve) and Educated Guess (the title-track of her new CD, two years later); while Serpentine and Self Evident (the longs texts to both are included in the booklet accompanying the CD) could be considered in a way one of DiFranco's peaks on record. A night that was one-of-a-kind, as written by Ani DiFranco in her liner notes.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2006 | Apr. 7, 2006