Ani DiFranco closes the XPNFest River Stage with a contemplative, charismatic, career-spanning set
As she took the stage with the sun setting behind the River Stage, folk icon Ani DiFranco took a moment to appreciate something of a concert role-reversal. “I like this scenario, now you have the light in your eyes,” she joked. “See how it feels, people?”
It was a good-natured ice-breaker to lead into a set that was equal parts contemplative and celebratory. Opening with “Still My Heart” from 2014’s Allergic To Water, the meditative song circled around finding centering forces amid uncertainty and self-doubt: “Just trying to walk that line, just trying to do my part / trying to calm my mind, trying to still my heart.”
This led into “Do or Die,” a similar mantra-like song from this year’s introspective Revolutionary Love LP: “So let’s pause, let us regroup / Let us recover, let us recoup.”
There was a sense of Di Franco, as she’s done throughout her career, using songs to make sense of this moment in her life — and by extension our collective lives. But thee was also a feeling of looking back and appreciating the journey: “We’re on a van tour,” she said. “It’s been a while. I’m not the nineteen year old who wrote some of these songs I’m going to play for you.” This got wild applause from the die-hards, and she added “Let’s pretend together, let’s pretend that’s okay.”
This ushered in “Not A Pretty Girl,” the title track from Di Franco’s breakout 1995 LP, and from there the set balanced contemporary cuts like the keyboard bop “Simultaneously,” which opens Revolutionary Love, and fervent takes on back-catalog favorites like the title track to 1998’s Little Plastic Castle.
Di Franco was backed by drummer Terence Higgins, whose resume includes work with Dirty Dozen Brass Band and North Mississippi Allstars, and keyboardist / upright bassist Todd Sickafoose, who has played with Erin McKeown, Andrew Bird, and worked extensively with Anaïs Mitchell (particularly on the hit musical Hadestown). Suffice it to say these players are legit as hell, and the chemistry they shared with DiFranco was undeniable. It might not be an entirely fair comparison, but they hearken back to the raw, cathartic feeling of the Sara Lee / Andy Stochansky iteration of Di Franco’s band, immortalized on the Living In Clip live album. Higgins and Sickafoose of course bring their own flavor to the proceedings, but the punchy, stripped down performance elevated the whole set.
For DiFranco’s part, her voice was strong and she opened up between songs, letting her persona shine. She was funny — “This is a creepy folk song, or it’s a contender,” she said introducing the pensive and dissonant “Chloroform.” She was outspoken, punctuating the patriarchy take-down “Play God” by alluding to Texas’ strict new abortion laws: “Reproductive freedom is a civil rights issue.”
And wrapping with the dreamlike expanse of Revolutionary Love‘s title track into classics “Gravel” and “Shameless,” she showed the crowd not only where she’s at but where she came from.
Check out photos of Ani DiFranco’s XPoNential Music Festival set and listen to the performance in full below.
Still My Heart
Do Or Die
Not A Pretty Girl
Little Plastic Castle
In Or Out