Ani DiFranco – Royal Festival Hall, June 2003

Seeing Ani DiFranco play live is a rare treat, and more than that – a moving and significant experience. This was my third Ani concert and unique in terms of the venue and because there was no band, just her and some semi-acoustic guitars. I make no secret of my partiality, I wanted to write here about what a wonderful concert is was and, possibly, inspire or remind you to pick up a CD.

In terms of background Ani DiFranco has good credentials. She has made 13 albums of political, feminist and self-penned songs released on her own independent record label, Righteous Babe Records ( Ani’s back-catalogue is not only large but varied, some songs and albums sound a bit more like folk, jazz or rock music than others. But they all share a distinct vocal style, sharp lyrical content and palpable musical energy.

She writes snappy, clever lyrics and memorable music

Plenty of people, I realise, shun political music considering folk singer-songwriters preachy and self-important. But I urge you not to discount Ani DiFranco, because besides the issues she writes catchy songs. And smart songs. She is socially and politically aware but she is not a dreamer or an idealist. She writes snappy, clever lyrics and memorable music. The kind of words that stay with you – if I still had a school bag, Ani DiFranco lyrics would be indelibly etched there (I’m not trying to say her music is for the school-aged only, just to illustrate how much I am captivated by the use of words). Despite the worthy motivations Ani DiFranco’s music is not difficult to like and it is not hard work to listen to.

The concert last week was special because Ani DiFranco was playing solo and because it was at the Royal Festival Hall in London, a large sit-down theatre. My previous experiences were standing and watching Ani play with a band. On those occasions there was a lot of bouncing around and desperate jostling to get closer to, or to actually see the stage. Ani DiFranco has a loyal following and as she plays few dates in the UK there is always a full house. This time there were hundreds of us sitting in the dark, more quietly than usual. There was the same sense of shared anticipation and, though the support (Hammer on Trial) was well-received , I felt the same overwhelming excitement descend when Ani arrived.

Standing alone on a rug in the middle of a large stage Ani DiFranco made a lot of wonderful noise. She played a few established old-favourite songs and mixed them in with new stuff. Listening to her I fell in love with ‘Evolve’, her most recent studio album. I’d not quite connected with the CD till then, hearing just her playing the songs, the words coming to the forefront, I was sold and remain so. The luxury of listening to the solo concert was that even where I didn’t know the songs I could still follow the words and enjoy them.

Additionally we could really hear her speak. There were conversational introductions and, as usual, some very funny interactions with hecklers. Ani DiFranco seems skilled and comfortable on stage, the word ‘professional’ comes to mind, though I don’t mean to invoke images of suit-wearing. It was truly a privilege to have the chance to sit quietly and listen. The times I’ve seen her with a band have been wonderful – and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the usual sweaty, bouncy sort of gig. However, you get something different from just being able to hear a songwriter talk about her songs and tell stories. And you get to hear different songs too.

Ani DiFranco is an engaging, articulate and compelling performer

For the encore a lot of the audience came down to the front of the theatre and waved their arms, so there was some bouncing. And I was completely happy to be part of that attentive and adoring throng. I might as well admit now to being teary-eyed in places, but don’t let me put you off, it’s not teary music at all, that’s just what happens when I feel moved. Ani DiFranco is an engaging, articulate and compelling performer and the concert last week only underlined this. She is very good at dealing with her audience and her live performances are captivating and at least as good as her recordings (I would recommend her live 2CD album ‘Living in Clip’, the first one I ever owned).

I count myself lucky to have been there. The crowd traipsing home across the bridge that night, and later sharing my tube car, seemed similarly happy and enervated. I encourage you to seize the chance to see her play whenever she returns, you could not be disappointed. In the meantime, happily, there are plenty of CDs to be going on with.

Reviewed by Anna Sandfield.