Ani DiFranco At Irving Plaza: Powerful, Peerless

Songstress Ani DiFranco performed a powerful, peerless set — the second of two sold out shows at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza — despite a barrage of setbacks that included shoddy monitoring, stubbornly out-of-tune guitars, broken strings and visable exhaustion.

The 25-year-old songwriter was armed only with her Alvarez acoustic guitar, black-taped Lee Press-On Nails and a catalogue of sometimes poignent, often confrontational and always brilliant songs. Drummer Andy Stochansky bolstered DiFranco’s already purcussive and deft hacking, often playing the foil to her self-depricating, giggly wit.

DiFranco’s Cheshire grin sent the multiply pierced and mostly female audience into a frenzy immediately with “Worthy,” the lead track from her seventh, fully-independent release, Not a Pretty Girl. Chock full of take-no-shit turns of phrase, DiFranco inspired shrieks and howles of approval at every bend. “Untouchable” and “Out of Me”‘s fiercly vitriol-laden hard truths hit like bricks.

Tuning her low E string to rubbery depths, DiFranco’s rivitting new tune, “Dilate” (“Life used to be like life/ Now it’s like showbiz/ I wake up every night/ Wondering where the bathroom is”), slammed like a thunderous report through a vacant lot. Closing the set with “Out of Range,” DiFranco — in a tradition harking back to her folk singing coffee house roots — took a brief intermission.

DiFranco returned alone for a melencholy, crowd-silencing run through “Both Hands” from her eponymous debut release. Joined again by Stochansky, the two rolled patiently into the muted and declarative “32 Flavors” (“I am a poster girl with no poster/I am 32 flavors and then some”) before whipping the crowd up with the stirring and, yes, funky “Cradle and All.”

Her autonymous battle cry reached fever pitch adressing the Gotham of Corporate Rock with “The Million You Never Made.” The 5’2” singer, writhing and rising to the mic with her neck craned, screamed her staunchly independent position (“I don’t prefer obscurity/But I’m an idealistic girl/And I wouldn’t work for you/No matter what you paid”) with such venom, it left her pacing and stumbling on the wings of the stage — chest heaving, eyes wide and dizzy — to regain her composure.

Worn, short of breath and out of smiles, DiFranco closed with a subdued a capella reading of “My IQ,” Stochansky at her side rapping lightly on his hand drum. But it was DiFranco’s plaintive and emotive encore of “Overlap” and “Not So Soft” that were most telling. With a generation of women projecting their hopes, fears and faith on her, DiFranco’s emotional investment and responsibility can’t be faked. Lumbering off the blue-lit stage with her head hung and shoulders hunched, the toll on the otherwise electrifying DiFranco was palpable.

This interview first appeared on Rolling Stone Online

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