Ani DiFranco @ House of Blues San Diego — 20th March, 2012

Ani DiFranco - House of Blues

Considering that this is a concert review (eventually . . .), most people who read it will already be familiar with Ani DiFranco. But for those who aren’t, who popped in here because you might have heard the name or are peripherally aware of her but can’t name one of her songs off the top of your head, let’s talk about her in general a bit, hm?

First off, I’ll be honest: Ani is what I believe to be a very acquired taste. I’ve always thought that the idea of an “acquired taste” paints a negative correlation in people’s minds, much like “interesting” is used as a placeholder response for when someone wants to avoid being rude but doesn’t have anything else nice to say. In this case, I mean it quite differently. Yes, there are people who may not like Ani’s voice — or, rather, the way she wrings it into a sometimes painful-to-listen-to tone in an effort to draw out the emotion that is attached to each and every word she writes. Her music is completely visceral, and that’s a very dividing thing in the music industry and for us as consumers. Now, you might disagree with that. You might argue that of course every artist wants to hear a true voice, even one gritty and grimy and less than perfect. I argue: if that were the case, auto-tune would not exist. Those who frequently spend their time listening to that . . . well, that crap? Yeah, you probably wouldn’t like Ani. For those of you who like consistency to your music, for every song to be a masterpiece of flowing melody? You probably wouldn’t like Ani, either.

Also, a lot of her music is either political in nature or explores the concept of love as seen through the prism of bisexuality, which is obviously another reason that she can be a very polarizing musician. If you think you might be uncomfortable hearing criticism of the Bush administration or would squirm at Ani’s playful re-telling of the looks that she and her then-girlfriend (I’m assuming, actually, because I don’t know the story behind the song other than what is presented in it) garnered in a small town diner while on tour, I would suggest shopping for your music at Walmart and staying far, far away from righteousbabe.com.

Now with all that said? If you don’t know Ani, go listen to her, even (especially!) if you think based on my description that you wouldn’t like her. It’s taken me years of listening to her music as I myself have grown and changed to fully appreciate her. Most of her songs that I don’t connect with right out of the gate I have to listen to at least five or six times before they really start to grow on me. At first it’s appreciation and an acknowledgment of her talent even if this song is “not to my taste”, and then a month later I’m listening to it on repeat a dozen times in a row because I can’t get enough (“Both Hands“, I’m looking at you). If you follow my advice and listen to her a few times, you might just find she grows on you. If that’s what happens, you’ll be thankful down the line, for she’s definitely been one of — if not the — most influential musicians for me. And if not, then no harm done . . . you will have done due diligence, and maybe she just isn’t really for you.

The one criticism that I hear often about Ani that I agree to a certain extent with? She’s much more interesting as a songwriter when she’s unhappy, which is a horrid thing to say! But what is art without suffering, and Ani’s written some absolute masterpieces during the period in her life when she was trying to figure out that whole “love” deal (see, for just one of many examples: “You Had Time”, a personal favorite). Now that she’s married, settled down with her daughter Petah on her hip, her songs are less edgy. That doesn’t mean that they’re worse, but they’re definitely less interesting (it is important to note that her political songwriting has not changed much). I want less songs about how we should all hold hands and save the Earth — though I say that with my tongue firmly in cheek, considering “Splinter” is one of my favorites off her newest album ¿Which Side Are You On?. I want more songs with lyrics like this:

everything i do is judged
and they mostly get it wrong
but oh well
‘cuz the bathroom mirror has not budged
and the woman who lives there can tell
the truth from the stuff that they say
and she looks me in the eye
and says would you prefer the easy way
no, well o.k. then
don’t cry
(“Joyful Girl”)

or

how many times undone
can one person be
as they’re careening through the facade
of their favorite fantasy
you just close your eyes slowly
like you’re waiting for a kiss
and hope some lowly little power
will pull you out of this
but none comes at first
and little comes at all
and when inspiration finally hits you
it barely even breaks your fall
(“So What”)

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