Ani DiFranco is a one-woman army.
From town to town she goes, packing venues with her troops. Thursday night at the Egg’s Hart Theater, she played her usual show for an amped-up, sold-out crowd — mostly music but also part political rally.
She’s a ball of energy who easily keeps an audience focused, even when alone on stage, as she was Thursday night for an audience of more than 900. She and her acoustics — she uses a different guitar for every song — deliver powerful music. Her guitar playing is real strong — she rarely strums, instead working her fingers through the lyrics and between the phrases.
Pairs of women danced in the aisles during her tunes, quite a feat for a one-person, acoustic show..
She played a few from her newest release, “Which Side Are You On?” “Promiscuity” and “Unworry” are mellow, thoughtful songs, but not the rowdy dance tunes the audience was hoping for. She said “Promiscuity” was about ”an older, wiser me speaking to the rest of me.”
After the quieter “Live Boat,” she bashfully asked for the crowd to stop singing through her quieter songs, saying it was distracting to her. Fortunately, everything she said was cheered with great zest by the crowd.
She followed with the rowdier “Two Lil Girls Coming Up,” filling the room with volume from her voice and guitar that no singing audience could compete with.
Before “Reckoning,” she talked about the oil in the coast of Louisiana — the Buffalo native now lives in New Orleans. She talked about smelling burning oil in her backyard for months after the catastrophic BP oil spill in 2006. It was in that scenario that she wrote “Reckoning,” which is also on her newest record.
“Government isn’t there for you, it’s there for show,” she sang.
She followed with a political essay spoken over a steady guitar rhythm. She is clever, and some of her songs, when stripped of their melody, read like a op-ed article from a newspaper. She’s about the message, and that resonates with her audience. She talked about nuclear energy, fossil fuels, war, oil, the atom and more. This lifted and connected her audience as much as her music.
“As Is” got the dancers out of their seat again.
“I had some long bleak years, and you guys were it,” she said late in the show. “You guys got me through.”
DiFranco is part of a small club of musicians who have cut their career on their own terms — she’s always produced through her own label. She is essentially a political folk singer, a contemporary version of 1960s Vietnam-era artists like Crosby Stills and Nash and Joan Baez.
She read her “literary feminist poetry.” She’s a great writer and a captivating reader, and it might have been the coolest moment of the show.
Thursday night was a great show. DiFranco still has all the energy, talent and motivation she had when she started. Until the world is fixed, you can count on her to stay on the road, and her troops to rally around her and the issues.
Opening the show was Pearl and the Beard, a wildly unique trio from Brooklyn that seemed to invent its own genre. Everything about the group was new. On one hand, they sang songs, but they were songs like you never heard before. They sang harmonies with abandon, played a sexy kazoo and attacked with cello, guitar and snare drum.
Their songs moved from chain-gang-like work songs to playful B-52s sounds with xylophone accompaniment. The band even joined DiFranco on stage to close the show with the title track from her latest album.