Ani DiFranco at Metropolis, Montreal
It is a cold blustery night that can’t decide between rain or snow, so I’m looking forward to a little upbeat folk tonight at the Met. Oddly enough, the last time I saw Ani DiFranco the weather was the same, except now it’s the end of November, whereas then it was the 2006 Calgary Folk Festival at the end of July. Strange.
First up is Iowa native Pieta Brown, accompanied solely by Bo Ramsey, a frequent collaborator of Lucinda Williams’, and who also produced a few of Brown’s albums. With Brown on acoustic and Ramsey on electric guitar, they glide gently though a quiet and nostalgic set of country-folk twang. Brown’s vocals bring an aching melody to her music, and the at-times ghostly moan and echo of slide guitar and a slight reverb on the acoustic reminds me of driving through the barren prairie back in Alberta.
The sole deviation is the final song, Remember the Sun, which Brown dedicates “to all the peace lovers, the love lovers and most of all the hope lovers, now that we got some hope down there,” which is not the last we’ll be hearing of the changing political tide in the States. The song is beautiful, and quietly uplifting and a good end to the all-too-short set.
Coupled with the downtempo folk and because they’re only on stage for a half dozen songs – barely more than twenty minutes – the effect is less a warm-up for the main act than a gentle comedown before the show’s even started. The feeling I’m left with is that they’d fit in better either as a solo show altogether or in between two louder acts at a music fest, but hey. I get to hear them now, and would want to hear more.
Without much ado, Ani DiFranco takes the stage with her current lineup: Allison Miller on drums, Todd Sickafoose on upright bass, and Mike Dillon on xylophones. As much as I loved the Andy Stochansky days, I enjoy how her backing musicians change almost as often as her hair, and I am quite excited to see “Master of Mallets” Mike Dillon back on this tour. He rocked out a wicked xylophone-solo at the CFF, yanking the instrument out of the abysmal depths of elevator music and giving it a relevance I haven’t enjoyed since my elementary school music class. Kudos, I say.
" DiFranco has always had a childlike giddiness – in her lighter moments – that shines though in her music and stage banter, and tonight it’s a nice glow to bask in."
DiFranco kicks off the show with Done Wrong, as fierce and heartbroken as the first time I heard it. I have to admit, I haven’t been able to keep up with DiFranco’s output; the last album I bought was Reveling/Reckoning, which was almost too melancholy than repeated listenings could bear. Despite the early declaration “There’s no words to describe how I feel these days… except you know, fucking great,” she reflects back on a few heartbreakers throughout the set, but the majority are a testament to the newfound peace she’s found in her steady relationship and recent role as a mom. It’s a joy that’s infectious; DiFranco has always had a childlike giddiness – in her lighter moments – that shines though in her music and stage banter, and tonight it’s a nice glow to bask in.
DiFranco’s signature playing style has grown and evolved - tonight her guitar sings much the way its mistress does, a quiet gathering before the roar – and her musical ambition remains as uncompromised as her politics. She touches on topics from living in her current home of New Orleans (Red Letter Year) - “Despite what all the news reports say, not everyone is getting shot,” – to politics and identity (Alla This, Evolve), to partnerships and motherhood (Present/Infant, Way Tight, Smiling Underneath). The more angsty oldies like Gravel, Two Little Girls and Napoleon seem almost out of place in this set - given her apparent current contentment – if only thrown in for sing-along necessity, though I doubt anyone in the crowd minds.
It’s hard to see how motherhood has slowed her down – she’s notoriously prolific, and though her latest release, Red Letter Year, just came out, she has two new songs to show off tonight. The first is a recount of the communal elation on November 4: “We poured out into the street, all eyes meeting, filled with tears … I used to hide my passport and now I want to display it … The victory was ours, and you were the first to say it.” Before playing the second, she relates a little tidbit I didn’t know: apparently her mother was from Montreal originally, before going to New York and “being swept off her feet by a little Italian guy,” as DiFranco puts it. DiFranco still visits a family cabin in the area and the song is an earthy paean to being grounded in natural rhythms, of staying connected, incorporating all sorts of beautiful overtones to nature and motherhood.
The set would be surprisingly short, if DiFranco hadn’t mentioned the almost-two-year-old that’s waiting for her to get off stage; she’s running on Mommy Time now, so it’s hardly plausible to expect her to go playing into the night. The show has been steady in terms of quality and varied in the display of her output; there’s really not much to be disappointed about, here. DiFranco comes back out onstage to play Evolve and Overlap, and then the show’s done and I stumble out into the night that finally settled on rain.
© Elizabeth Keith
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