ALBANY -- Ani DiFranco made it through one song before turning her attention to the elections. “We are going to get pushed like we’ve never been pushed before,” she told a full house at the Egg’s Hart Theater on Wednesday night. “And we are going to push back.” To this, and to every similar comment, the crowd erupted.
Playing with a drummer and a stand-up bassist, she carried the melody on her acoustic guitar and vocals. It was good to have musicians with her, but in some ways they watered down the intensity that a solo DiFranco delivers.
After assuring the crowd, “we are going to get through this together,” she launched into “Allergic to Water,” a clever song with lines like “If you stretch your mind all the way as far as it goes, there's someone out there who lives further than that.”
The familiar “Both Hands” drew a big applause from the first chord. The song was fine, but it didn’t set any records. She followed with “Fire Door,” an upbeat, midtempo tune that jumped forward nicely. These were all brief songs -– around three minutes each -– which allowed the show to move quickly.
When she handed off her guitar to get tuned up, she approached the mike and started to recite a poem that took you through the life of a little girl, recited in first person. DiFranco has no fear, standing up there alone, her arms hanging by her side while she recites earnest, fierce personal lines about standing up for oneself.
The crowd yelled incessantly between songs. She gave them the space to do this, and occasionally shot back some clever one-liners. DiFranco is a political being. All her lyrics, even when personal, have social messages. Even when she strums a power chord on her acoustic it feels political. “I cried during the sound check,” she said at the beginning of the show.
Toward the end of the show, when audience members were yelling, “I love you,” she said, “Can we talk about capitalism for a second.” She spoke to a quiet crowd for a few minutes, musing on the current political climate “of greed” and her thoughts on “taking care of each other.”
In “Not a Pretty Girl,” she repeated the phrase, “I ain't no damsel in distress, and I don't need to be rescued.” A mostly female audience cheered during these lines.
Opener Chasity Brown joined her for “Napoleon,” where they played a version arranged for the two vocalists. DiFranco works hard on these songs, strumming away aggressively while covering all the lyrics, some of them off meter, some of the lines needing to smush into small meters.
She attacked a series of songs after this, turning up her physical movements, hitting the lyrics a little harder. Don’t mess with DiFranco when she gets like this — stay out of her way.
The band provided good color and rhythm, bringing more volume to the music. It also gave the sense of a larger show. They had a good sound, they played well together. But it would have been nice to have DrFranco alone, wrestling with her guitar like she does, carrying the whole song on her shoulders. That’s when she’s best.
Still, it was a great show as always. While the shows don’t vary much from year to year, they always deliver, and you exit a little stronger than when you entered.
Chastity Brown opened the show, an assertive singer who sang with the control of coffee house folk and with the power of blues and gospel. She opened with the old soulful Sam Cooke “A Change is Gonna Come,” after telling us, “all I could think to do is sing one of my ancestor’s songs,” referring to the election the previous day.
She had a calming presence on stage, and delivered her songs with the same comforting energy, even when singing at full throttle. She said it was her first time in Albany — if and when she returns to town, see her show, she is worthwhile.