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Reviews > Shows

Published: 2016/03/31
by Reanna Feinberg

Ani DiFranco, Rogue Theatre, Grants Pass, OR- 3/1

Ani DiFranco bounced onto stage with a hard strum across her guitar and a cocktail of cute laughter carbonating a seasoned woman’s powerful edge and artful discontent. The solid stage floor became her personal rock-poetry trampoline in the Oregon mountain town of Grants Pass, exactly 2 years to the day since her last show in this venue. Diving headfirst into her music, she sliced into the packed room with a machete of forceful words, yelling, “I am not a pretty girl!” No time to waste with a late show on a Tuesday night.

She’s been doing this for decades. Her vitality, authenticity, humor, passion and activism, filtered through her unique vocal brand, have lost no potency. She utilized the tools of words, whose roots were born from the same patriarchal system she railed against, to tout an inspiring anarchist rebellion against their maker with art and beauty. Speaking intimately, it felt as if she were conversing with an old friend over tea. She spoke to the whole audience this way: simply chatting with a microphone and a room full of people adoring her and inspired by her courage to speak, a little louder.

She used that amplified voice to say, “I’m the one with the microphone, I should really pull myself together.” Joking in playful banter throughout the night, largely directed at herself. This raw, sweet and powerful package allowed the potency of her words to seep through an accessible persona to affect more ears.

And thank goodness, because her words had attitude—in subject and delivery. As if she may have spit out the side of her mouth, growled and took a bite out of your shirt as she laughed and walked away after each line. A petite, feminist, Hunter S. Thompson, with goofy quirk and a giggle. She also sang beautifully and always with an interesting serrated edge. It was the same gait of spoken word poetry that steps with intention into footsteps spread too wide for the length of a normal human leg, then sinks deep, as if each landing of the tongue, matters. This type of performance reminds me that art is power.

It left my thoughts speaking broken syllables in a landscape of graffiti sunsets, that love to play there but make no sense. For example, I could tell you concrete information, like: she switched guitars every song alternating sound signatures. A stand-up bass and drum set supported her folk rock poetry slam… But quickly the words would gather their own momentum, mirroring her style in their own reflection, and might describe said guitars by saying something like: they mixed the tone and feel like braids of coral and ash tied with rainbows dripping blood, into a sunset that never set but instead stood at the back of the room watching the lineage of her portfolio played out in different tones. From intense power and grit in early years; to softer, touching pieces that approached the heart from a door of beauty; to newer songs with intentional odd tones playing with the predictable flow of musical words to affect the mind into curiosity. All the time wondering: what’s going on? I have tried to anchor these words into submission but they are practiced at defiance and I will only attempt to shore a bank around them and follow their echo to see where they lead.

DiFranco, a master word wrangler, has perfected this craft. Even awkward moments had connection. Like when she introduced a song by saying, “I don’t know how to segue into this. Perhaps I should tell you about the letter of concern I received,” from a fan referring to her song, “Allergic to Water,” whose lyrics included: water, it itches my skin. I don’t cry because it hurts to cry, and I don’t go outside in the rain. Now, for those unaccustomed to this art form of word wrangling, their boots may not yet be waterproofed and metaphors may soak their socks and set the rational mind to fever. This is, of course, no reason for immediate medical attention.

DiFranco is certainly an expert in this sport and, as such, may require the wearing of safety goggles. She sang syllables more than words. She played a Bond theme song where all the beautiful women were queer. Her voice echoed in hard punk and sweet rock funk. She gargled her words, rolling their pieces through her mouth. She buzzzzzed in hearty fragments of puzzle laid syllables paired between stretched pauses and urgent bottle-stuffed messages, taking their time to shore. Intentionally weird, awkward chords interspersed the lyrical play of texture in many songs. She stopped mid-set and asked, “What would a rock show be without a poem?” Then took suggestions from the audience and performed, My I.Q. Come to think of it, her performance may require a seat belt.

After playing a song she stayed up late and wrote the night before, she asked, “How many writers are here? Do you ever have the experience of writing something… and wonder what the hell was that?” Though, my favorite line of hers from the night (and new personal mantra) was: “If you’re not getting happier as you get older—then you’re fuckin’ up.” No holds barred, that’s simply great advice.

She ended the show with a few old favorites, “Shameless” and an encore of “Both Hands” and “Untouchable Face.” Throughout the night, I found that I knew the words to so many of her songs that I hadn’t heard for over a decade…when I was first exposed to her in written form in a feminist literature class. If these collections of her words popped out shiny and new from the dusty, forgotten corners of my mind (often triggered by the tone of a single note) it made me question if the stimuli we expose ourselves to may last a lifetime floating behind the current of our vision, influencing the design and shape of the world we see. How very important it would be then, to fill the tanks of our brain-fold shelves with good food. I feel quite satisfied having filled a few more folds with her music.

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