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Published: 2008/04/30
by Brian Ferdman

Ani DiFranco Live at Babeville

Righteous Babe Records RBR056DVD

Let me just get this out up front— I know very little about Ani DiFranco. If you're some sort of hardcore Ani fan, my opinion holds no water with you. I admittedly have always steered clear of Ani DiFranco for multiple reasons, not the least of which was her fans’ obsessive behavior. However, I eventually grew up and realized that I had no right to frown upon someone's obsessive behavior when I am guilty of behaving the same way with regards to my favorite bands. Beyond that, her band sports percussionist/vibraphone guru Mike Dillon and upright bassist Todd Sickafoose, two musicians with talent and creativity in spades. Moreover, four years ago, I saw Ani DiFranco sit in and deliver some phenomenal vocals in a tiny Jazz Fest jam session that remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. All of these factors made me finally wake up and realize that it was time to give this undeniably successful artist a chance.

When a landmark 19th century church had fallen into disrepair in her hometown of Buffalo, DiFranco swept in and cut a deal with the city, requiring them to repair the fae in exchange for giving her control of the insides. She spent a sizable amount of time and money in revitalizing the church’s interior, installing eco-friendly climate control systems and applying her own artistic flair to the re-design. Christening the building Babeville, her inaugural concerts on September 11 and 12, 2007 were filmed for this DVD.

Even though I was completely unfamiliar with her songs, I found them to be rather accessible and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the mellow groove of “Sunday Morning,” in which Dillon’s mysterious vibes blend well with Sickafoose’s playful loping bass. The solo number, “Shy” rightly riles up the crowd with its bouncy intensity and descriptive lyrics. “In The Way” was probably the last sound I expected to hear from DiFranco. It’s pretty funky and the type of beat that makes it hard to sit still, which is evident from the way that she can’t stop dancing while playing a great hook. Sickafoose and Dillon really enhance this tune by throwing out some casually swinging figures paired against Alison Miller’s compact beat, and things really get going when Dillon busts out a vibe solo that would make Lionel Hampton proud. Nevertheless, the song never truly explodes, but it maintains a veritable sense of cool, and it’s just damn hard to stop moving when you hear it.

Has this DVD made me an Ani fan? No, but I did gain some appreciation for her music, and after hearing her chemistry with her very talented band and observing her positive and glowing onstage demeanor and charisma, I’d certainly consider catching her live in concert. And in case anyone is wondering, my roommate is an Ani DiFranco fan, and she was impressed with the performances on the DVD, so this one pleases on all levels.

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