Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeTaking the stage with only a bass player to help fill the void at the Auditorium Theatre, Ani DiFranco gave the crowd light-hearted banter between songs, but while in song was as serious as a musician could be.
The crowd was a bit hesitant as Ani played some of her latest material, but it didn't take long before the more daring in the crowd began to leap to their feet and cheer and dance. Early on this type of behavior was shhhshed, but Ani's response ("I'm beginning to think Chicago is the shhh town Shhhicago.") loosened up the crowd at least a little bit. It was this type of ad-libbed moment between songs that made the night fun even while the music wasn't playing. After a fan called out for one of DiFranco's funkier tunes, Ani replied, "This doesn't seem to be a funkporium... (pausing to take a glance at the theatre), but why have a tight ass when you could have a big,... billowing ass?" And, later in the show when guest violinist Andrew Bird was having technical problems at the beginning of a song, Ani put together some improv over the guitar line she had already started and did well to cover until Bird's equipment problems were solved. And when Bird's violin finally sounded through the speakers, it was a beautiful sound. Bird's haunting strings were a perfect match to bassist Todd Sickafoose's smooth sound on the upright and the pulsing, yet gentle, strumming and plucking by Ani.
Then there were songs like "Gravel," "I Adore You," and "Little Plastic Castle," where DiFranco seemed close to ripping the strings right off of her guitar. While her voice is equally as capable of changing mood and tempo, the changes DiFranco went through on guitar were intricate, precise, and lightning-quick. With the flurry of notes that DiFranco can fit into one song, it was impressive that at the end of the night there had been only one errant note on one single string. And somehow, even that one missed note added to the show and in the end made her seem more human.
Paired with her singing, which can be both raw and polished, gentle and agressive, clean and throaty, DiFranco played complicated guitar riffs underneath vocal lines with a natural ease. When DiFranco's voice was the focal point of a mellower tune, she sang with a confidence and vulnerability at the same time, that carried her emotion all the way up to the lofty balconies of the theatre. To borrow a line from one of Ani's tunes, DiFranco sang a song into my ear, and it tickled those tiny hairs.
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