Tag Archives: ani difranco

(Not) Angry Anymore: Ani DiFranco at First Avenue

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It’s difficult to explain how much Ani DiFranco meant to me when I was a teenager without sounding cheesy. Suffice to say, she was my hero. I read her lyrics like poetry and turned to her albums for solace and inspiration. My friend Lisa shared my obsession, and in 2009 we were finally able to see her in concert. We had second row seats at the Fargo Theater, a night that I still describe as one of the happiest experiences of my life.

Despite being less enamored with her new music, when Lisa suggested that we go to the concert at First Avenue, I was immediately on board. A common theme of Ani’s career is that she’s a better live performer than she is an album artist. While her albums have meant a lot to me, I would agree that nothing can compare to the energy of her live shows. She draws from her extensive back catalog with a smattering of new songs mixed in. Whatever our opinion of her new music, Lisa and I knew that the show was likely to be phenomenal.

First Ave is general admission, which makes for a far different experience than assigned seating at the Fargo Theater. I was surprised by how much I liked standing at an Ani show. At both of our concert experiences, we’ve been befriended by other audience members. I think that says a lot about the type of fans Ani attracts. So when the time came to dance along with her more high-energy tunes, it was fun to share that experience with the crowd. And was it ever a high energy show!

The first real treat was the night was “Marrow,” arguably one of her most lyrically impressive songs. She played it with all the intensity that the song requires. “Marrow” was followed by “Shy,” the first song to really make us dance, and it was probably around this time that I fell effortlessly back into my fangirl days of yore. “Not A Pretty Girl” was another treat because it doesn’t often pop up on live albums, not to mention being a touchstone song for her 1990s philosophy. She ended the night with “Gravel,” a classic that shows off her guitar wizardry, as well as whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

As I look at the setlist, there are plenty more songs that makes me say, “Oh, that was amazing too!” But that might not be the most interesting blog post. She also played five songs from the upcoming album that’s set to be released on November 4. Before the show, I said to Lisa, “She’ll probably play three songs from the new album tops.” I guess that’s what I get for being a know-it-all. The new songs sound good live, but I will have to report back after listening to the album. There were two songs in particular that got me excited for the prospect.

Ani’s tank top was drenched in sweat by the end of the show. She gave her all for us, and she was visibly appreciative of the crowd’s enthusiasm. As it turns out, she’s still my hero.

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Up Close with Anais Mitchell

I moved to Minneapolis back in August. Like any starry-eyed girl moving to the city, I had certain fantasies about what my new life would be like. One of my ideas was that, with access to the Minneapolis music scene, I would be going to a lot more concerts. Two factors made that more difficult than I expected. One, I’m an AmeriCorps member, so I can’t really afford to drop money for concert tickets any time I like. Two, my job is exhausting and often time-consuming.

Still, it’s not too hard to convince me to catch a show if the price is right. Even if I’m not familiar with the band or musician, I almost always enjoy live music. Once in college I drove my friend Amy to see the Shout Out Louds and wound up becoming a big fan of the opening band, Freelance Whales. So when my roommate Lisa invited me to see Anais Mitchell, a former member of Ani DiFranco’s record label, I figured I was bound to enjoy myself.

Anais was playing at 7th Street Entry, a smaller venue within First Avenue. I had never been there before, so I was excited to check it out. When it comes to 7th Street Entry, intimate is an understatement. There’s nothing separating the musical act from the audience except a low platform of a stage. You can tell people aren’t used to that level of closeness because the crowd gave the stage a wide berth at first. Cuddle Magic, the opening band with a comical name, actually asked everyone to take two steps forward. During the opener, I looked to my right and saw Anais herself standing near the wall. Intimate indeed.

Anais cites Ani DiFranco as her mentor, and I could definitely see that influence when she was onstage. Her songs are thoughtfully and beautifully written, the kind of songs that make fans feel an intense emotional connection. In other ways, though, she is very different from Ani. While Ani often has a boisterous stage presence, Anais seems to be a more soft-spoken performer. Her unique voice also resists comparison. As she sang, the word that came to my mind was “troubadour.”

Of course, there I was just feet away from a talented musician, and for once I hadn’t brought my camera. Not to be deterred, I managed to get a few decent shots with my phone camera.

I now consider myself a full-fledged Anais fan. If her beautiful songs weren’t enough, one moment at the concert solidified it. Midway through the set, her band left the stage so that she could play a few songs solo. She said if people had any requests, this was the time to say them. As if they had planned it, my roommate and the girl next to her yelled out, “Old-Fashioned Hat!” And play it she did. That’s quality, folks.

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Music March: Ani DiFranco’s Which Side Are You On?

My relationship to Ani DiFranco has changed over the years. I first became a fan back in 2003, after reading about her in the YA novel Hard Love. At that point she had been recording albums for over a decade, so there was a huge back catalog for me to explore. Ani was also extremely prolific, releasing a new album every year without fail. This didn’t always lead to the most polished records, but it was never boring to be an Ani fan.

Then she had the audacity to find a healthy romantic relationship, have a baby, and get married. Okay, my indignation is mostly in jest. If her early albums are any indication, Ani was a tortured soul for many years, and I can’t really begrudge her finding happiness. What does perplex me is the major slowdown in her creative output. I mean, really. Her husband Mike Napolitano is a music producer, and they have recording equipment right in their home. Even being a parent can’t explain the three-and-a-half year gap between Red Letter Year and Which Side Are You On?.

I had only moderate expectations for this album, and I can’t say that they were exceeded. I listened to this interview on NPR Music that helped me put my finger on what bothers me about Which Side. She talks about how the album changed direction over time. It started out as a very personal record and would have been titled Albacore after a song that she wrote as a wedding present for her husband. Then she began to write some seriously politically songs that worked their way onto the record.

And here is exactly my problem with Which Side Are You On?:  it feels like two different albums. The understated love songs just don’t mesh with the overwrought political numbers. Ani has written many political songs that I love, but these are too unwieldy, too wordy, and just generally lacking ummph. The only political song with some rabble-rousing potential is the title track, which is really a reworking of someone else’s song.

The truth is, I actually like most of the personal songs. “Mariachi” has been a favorite of mine since I saw the first low-quality video of a live performance on YouTube. “Hearse” is a beautifully simple song about finding love and contentment. “Life Boat” is a look back at herself as a young woman that wouldn’t be out of place on an earlier album. I think I would have liked the album better in its earlier incarnation, as Albacore instead of Which Side. I can hear the extra time taken with the lush arrangements, but production value is not what attracted me to Ani during my teen years.

There is plenty of good music in the world, and I believe that life has room for most of its varieties. So I will enjoy some of these songs when the occasion arises. Others will probably fall by the wayside. If you’re curious about the new tunes, here’s a live performance of “Life Boat.”

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This Is What Excites Me

In the last week there have been three exciting developments in pop culture. Unlike celebrity gossip, which is momentarily interesting at best, these are things that I find genuinely worthy of excitement. Then again, I’m a huge nerd.

Exciting tidbit #1: The Hunger Games trailer!

For those not following the trends of young adult literature, The Hunger Games is a wildly popular science fiction trilogy by Suzanne Collins. You can click on the links if you want to know more about the plot. The popularity of the series has inevitably led to films, the first of which is coming out in March! Now since I’m a huge fan of the books, I would definitely recommend reading the books before seeing the movie. But I can happily say that so far the movie looks worthy of its source material.

Exciting tidbit #2: the Brave trailer!

As I geeked out about in a previous post, Brave is the first Pixar movie with a female protagonist. It’s also set in ancient Scotland and features the vocal talents of one Emma Thompson. Any new Pixar release is cause for excitement, but these ingredients seem like a recipe for awesome. The trailer itself gives me some mixed feelings. Based on the poster and other media coverage, I had expected the film to have a darker tone, but the trailer seems to contain a lot of the typical “Disney princess movie” components. Obviously I’m a fan of the Disney fairy tale films. I just had a different set of expectations for Brave. Still, trailers can be deceiving, and I can’t wait to see it this summer.

Exciting tidbit #3: release date for new Ani DiFranco album!

The album is titled Which Side Are You On? because it includes Ani’s reworking of the Pete Seeger protest anthem. When the album comes out in January, it will have been nearly four years since her last release. From a woman who put out an album a year for over a decade, that feels like an eternity. But that’s what happens when an artist has a family and is generally more content with her life, I think. Now that the album has a release date, I’m looking forward to seeing what Ani can do given more time to develop her ideas. It will be interesting to hear studio versions of songs that I already love on YouTube. And yes, there are even a couple tunes on this album that I heard her perform live back in 2009.

So there you have it: three things to look forward to in 2012. At least if you love young adult literature, Pixar animation, and the Little Folksinger.

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Good Coverage

I love cover songs. Sometimes I love a cover more than the original version, which makes me feel a little blasphemous. I know some people hate to hear their favorite songs reinterpreted. Once I played a friend the stunning version of “Comfortably Numb” by Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco, and he complained that they had “ruined it.” I strongly disagree, of course. If I’m going to enjoy a cover song, it can’t be just a rehashing of the original. I believe that it takes real artistry to present another musician’s work through your own musical lens.

So today, in honor of cover bands everywhere, I’m going to share with you four of my favorite live covers. Studio versions of cover songs would be much too difficult to narrow down to four or five. These are just a few that have crossed my path and made me smile in the last year or so.

Taylor Swift:  “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay

Taylor Swift is one of my not-so-guilty guilty pleasures. This song suits her voice very well, and her simple rendition allows me to appreciate the lyrics in a new way. Plus she sings within my (very limited) range, so I can feel cool when I sing along.

Tegan and Sara:  “Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen

Skip to the 1:05 mark on this video, unless you long to hear about how Tegan and Sara’s stepdad loved Springsteen. I had to include this one in honor of my Karaoke at the Reub partners. Our rendition can’t be topped, obviously, but this is a close second.

Avril Lavigne:  “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha

I won’t try to convince you that Avril really brings out the nuances in Ke$ha’s lyrics. Still, the song and Avril are well-suited for each other. If nothing else, you can covet her sparkly microphone.

Ani DiFranco:  “Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine (and Bonnie Raitt)

The clip is just audio, but it’s well worth listening, I assure you. Sometimes I forget that Ani DiFranco has pipes. If you only listen to one of these songs, let it be this one. She will break your heart and make you like it.

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