The Palladium is an unusual venue for a gig, particularly for an artist like Ani DiFranco. It is a theatrical seated venue, not conducive to dancing. The crowd is a female heavy mix, as a vocal feminist and as female song writer who has explored politics, the differences in generations and sexuality with a candid and personal viewpoint this comes as no surprise. It is a chatty and friendly crowd who take their seats and settle down for the show.
At this point, special mention should be given to the support act, English folk musician Ruth Theodore and her band, who are warmly received. Her mix of folk and slinky funk providing a perfect opener for DiFranco.
Opening with a gentle version of mid-nighties track Shy. Heavy with deep reverberation and soulful vocals she has set a standard for the evening’s entertainment. Riffing on the theme of female empowerment and sexual politics comes Two Little Girls and feminist anthem Pretty Girl.
Tracks, Names and Dates and Allergic to Water seem to sit at opposite ends of DiFranco’s catalogue. One is a funky up beat tune with a jazz undercurrent, the other is a melancholy folk song layered with DiFranco’s trademark punchy staccato guitar playing.
DiFranco is joined on stage by an upright bass player who is not afraid to intersperse the plucking and slapping with deftly played bowed sections when called on. The whole band are prepared to shift from linear playing to creating ambient soundscapes when backing sections of poetry. Together they create a stirring backdrop to poem Grand Canyon.
From her most recent album come tracks Zizzing, Play God and eponymous track Binary. These are passionate tracks with concentrated lyrical content, poetic stories expertly told by a songwriter can use the sound and inflection to add tone and meaning. This is the combination of music and writing that becomes different classification or discipline.
Pausing to give context to the next song DiFranco tells a witty and personal story about how she came to be inspired to write another song from Binary, Alrighty. Waiting to play a show in Manchester, where the venue was unusually a cathedral which was still actively used for services she was watching the light moving through the stained glass, seeing clearly for a moment how the theatre of religion can be used a s persuasive force. She takes the time to offer a disclaimer stating that she is not against people choosing religion as a basis to do good, but as the song goes, “Next time I see a man giving birth, For what it’s worth, I’ll try to picture the creator as a dude with a beard, But right now I gotta tell you that it’s seeming kinda weird.”
Stopping for another moment in her set she talks about the acceleration of the Schumann Resonance, paraphrasing and wandering off on tangents she confuses with an explanation about how the Earth has a ‘heartbeat’ pulsing in frequencies which we cannot hear but which living things contribute to and which indicate a shifting in consciousness. This only collective vibe that is palpable after this piece of teaching is relief that she is going to play another song.
Deferred Gratification may be DiFranco’s only nod to parenthood, being the mother of two children with husband and long-time producer Mike Napolitano. The dual motif of caregiver and empowered, released woman seems to resonate with the audience and the song is pierced through with approving yelps and calls of appreciation.
On enigmatically themed Napoleon DiFranco tells a story which has had fans guessing who the subject of the song is. It is a tale of the pitfalls of a raise to fame and the compromised values which plague artists. This may not be a theme which the audience has direct experience of, but it is fair to assume everybody knows the type, as the song speaks of ego, “Everyone is f**king Napoleon.” It also illustrates what a risk taker DiFranco is with her candour particularly when artists are encouraged to ‘play the game’ and indiscretion is in bad taste unless it serves to promote music sales through publicity.
Even More, Alla This, Grey and Woe Be Gone sees the end of the audience being confined to their seats. Starting with the lone figure of a women silhouetted in the central isle of the tiered seating, her arms raised, spinning, and twirling towards the stage. After howls of encouragement others join her, liberated by the music (and the reluctance of Palladium theatre staff to stop them).
For the encore comes the added value with a joyful gathering of Ruth Theodore and her whole band. “We’re doing a folk music thing”, jokes DiFranco, “and that means getting together all the folks.” The spectrum of musicians on stage creates a funky mix on number Which Side Are You On? The whole band stays on for 32 Flavours, bringing to a close a cathartic and powerful set in which the shared experience of live music is proven to be so worthwhile. A grinning Ani DiFranco leaves the stage, hopefully safe in the knowledge that her expression has moved, motivated and changed people… just don’t get her started on Schumann.
Ani DiFranco continues her tour in the US with dates across the country.
Photographs by Belle Piec and Review by Sarah Sievers