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–Ani DiFranco/Chastity Brown: Live at The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Mich., 04-03-16

Ani DiFranco

–Ani DiFranco/Chastity Brown: Live at The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Mich., 04-03-16

Some musicians set out solely to entertain their audiences. Others are more focused on creating authentic and poignant art, while still others seem more concerned about advancing a political or personal agenda than being particularly creative or entertaining. It takes a rare sort of talent to be able to seamlessly combine all these elements into his/her concerts. Ani DiFranco falls into this latter category – big time.

Indie folk-rock is a relatively new addition to my listening tastes. I’ve always been a huge fan of great singer/songwriters such as Billy Joel, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Elton John, etc. But the alternative folk-rock, socially-conscious, left-wing artists mostly eluded my radar for the better part of 30 years. That all changed four-to-five years ago when I accidentally ran into a Youtube video of a young woman singing and playing acoustic guitar. She sang beautifully, but what really intrigued me immediately was her guitar playing. Her-right hand picking technique was extremely precise and aggressive, her rhythms intricate and staccato. Her dynamic guitar playing appealed to my hard-rocking soul, as if she were thrashing out some, well, thrash metal on her acoustic guitar. The song was “Swan Dive,” and I was promptly hooked, lined, and sunk in her “shark-infested waters” – though I didn’t/don’t exactly have a bloody tampon with which to splash about. No matter, I quickly became a huge fan of Ani DiFranco’s songs and incredibly poetic lyrics. I knew that someday seeing her live would be a dream come true. So, when it was announced back in December that she would be heading to Grand Rapids on her Allergic to Water tour, I was all over that immediately.

My expectations were not to be disappointed. At about 10 minutes to six, I arrived at The Intersection to find an ever-increasing line snaking along the block. It was clear that this show’s demographics were comprised of at least 90 percent women, which made for a refreshing change of pace from the typical rock and metal shows I attend. Judging by the many friendly and welcoming people I met while waiting in line, acceptance and understanding would be prominent themes for this show.

I made my way near the front of the stage and held my position about five rows back during the monotonous hour-long, pre-show wait. Finally, Chastity Brown took the stage, along with her lone bandmate, guitarist Luke Enyeart. Sporting just an acoustic guitar and a beautiful, plaintive voice, Brown delivered an entertaining, if mellow, 40-minute set. Her songs are contemplative and somewhat melancholic in the singer-songwriter vein, sprinkling in a bit of soul and R&B for good measure. Brown exhibits a good deal of charisma as well, evidenced by some of her between-song storytelling. At one point she said she spent part of the afternoon enjoying a pleasant nature walk along the Grand River, also noting the disgusting sludge and trash floating along its banks. Her set left me wanting more, and I’ll be looking out for her CDs soon.

When I imagined the experience of going to an Ani DiFranco concert, I envisioned a sort of spirited socio-political, LGBT revival meeting set to music. Oh, yes, it was all that and more. Ani, dressed in trademark grey cargo pants and white tank top, stormed the stage with her acoustic guitar and two-piece band in tow.  Her band circa 2016 features Todd Stickafoose on upright bass and drummer Terence Higgins; this dynamic duo deftly provided the lock-tight rhythms and bottom-end oomph all night long. DiFranco performed some of her most favored hits and deep cuts with conviction and enthusiasm, her fiery smile rarely wavering. Her uniquely powerful sing-talky voice sounded pristine, and her vocal delivery was impeccable. As I already mentioned, her acoustic guitar playing is unreal, and she fulfilled all my thrashing air-guitar expectations on tunes such as “Swan Dive” (my absolute Ani favorite), and the rousingly danceable “Shameless.” DiFranco and co. barreled through many of her best anthems while barely allowing the ecstatic audience room for air. Unlike many other touring artists, DiFranco mixes up her setlist greatly each night. Therefore, I felt privileged to hear so many of my beloved and poetic Ani favorites: “Dithering,” “Gravel,” “Napoleon,” “Untouchable Face,” “As Is,” “Woe Be Gone,” “Swan Dive,” “Shameless,” etc.

For the encore, DiFranco brought Brown and Enyeart back onstage for a sing-along version of the worker-rights anthem, “Which Side Are You On?” When she closed with “32 Flavors,” her timeless ode to individuality and self-pride, I was in musical heaven. Judging by the reaction of the jam-packed Intersection crowd, I was far from alone.

Which side am I on? Ani’s side.—Jonathan Kollnot

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on April 21, 2016.

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