Review: Ani DiFranco mixes folk fury, politics and punk at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa
With Ani DiFranco’s solo tour swinging through this swing state less than three weeks before THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN AMERICAN HISTORY, you’d think she’d come ready to rally her lefty fans to action.
And, sure enough, DiFranco said that when she arrived at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa on Tuesday, she’d planned to set up a voter registration table at the venue. But then she found out Florida’s registration deadline had already passed, and, well … at that point, why bother with the politickin’? After all, if there’s one thing you’re not going to find at an Ani DiFranco concert, it’s undecided voters. These gals (and more than a few guys) are true blue, through and through.
Instead, while the rest of the free world watched Mitt and Barack duke it out in their second presidential debate, DiFranco treated her rabid fans to more than 90 minutes of fiery folk spanning her fiercely independent, hugely influential, wholly unique career.
For a while, it did seem like politics would be the theme of the night. Following a soulful, tone-setting set from Texan folkie Ruthie Foster (whose breakup-mixtape take on Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire was a total heartbreaker), the 42-year-old DiFranco – her newly revealed baby bump barely perceptible behind her guitar – opened with new, politically minded tracks ¿Which Side Are You On?, a reworking of an old Pete Seeger protest song; and Splinter, an environmental call to arms.
But then came 2005’s Manhole, a fingerpicked-blues kiss-off, and 2006’s 78% H2O, a cabaret-like number plucked on a slender-necked, four-string Gibson Cromwell, and fans were reminded that DiFranco need not rabble-rouse to be captivating. She only needed to be her confessional, incandescent self.
All night, DiFranco’s only accompaniment was her guitar, though it often sounded like so much more. The acoustic punk number Names and Dates and Times, which dates back nearly 20 years, felt more refined, more lived-in than it was in 1993, yet no less furious. On the stirring Reckoning, DiFranco wrung bass, electric and acoustic tones from her guitar, creating the effect of a full backing band. And DiFranco utilized every inch of her fretboard on Shameless, a bow-chicka-bow funk ditty Dave Matthews would be proud to call his own. When DiFranco struck the final chord of Shameless like a gong, the Ritz roared with riotous applause.
Politics did creep back onto the agenda a couple of times. DiFranco dedicated 1998’s Fuel, a furious slice of bebop poetry, to Obama, saying, “I’m just going to send this one out to him tonight … I hope he’s feeling us.” And midway through the set, DiFranco set aside her guitar for Grand Canyon, a 2004 spoken word piece about the second-class treatment of women worldwide. She said she was inspired to perform it after recently watching the PBS documentary Half the Sky in her hotel room. (Noting that the poem was inspired by a film on PBS, DiFranco laughed, “Don’t let ‘em get Big Bird! Don’t let ‘em do it! Vote for Big Bird!”)
After the poem, the concert gained lightness and life: The sing-alongs of Both Hands and 32 Flavors; the gentle, joyous bounce of As If; the coy and playful Untouchable Face; the dynamite Gravel, which is as punk-rock a love song as one person can play.
With the extreme minimalism of DiFranco’s stage setup, the Ritz had the feel of a cavernous bar Tuesday night. DiFranco hasn’t had to perform in bars in two decades, but watching her mastery of the guitar and her unique voice, you know there’s not one in America she couldn’t walk into and own.
Even in the red states.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*