Ani DiFranco captures Suffolk Theater Riverhead, NY 1-24-15 w/ Anaïs Mitchell

Ani DiFranco captures Suffolk Theater Riverhead, NY 1-24-15 w/ Anaïs Mitchell

Iconic Folk Rock musician Ani DiFranco has been an important figure for twenty five years now.  Having become an emancipated minor at fifteen, the depth and stark honesty of her music is born of real life experiences. With strong feminine values and the championing of social justice themes that have run through her musical output since her self-titled debut album, DiFranco released her eighteenth studio album Allergic to Water in 2014. Continuing to support the latest work through 2015 with her expert mix of Folk and Acoustic Rock peppered with Punk attitude, DiFranco is crisscrossing the country playing small to mid-size venues and amphitheaters.  Returning to The Suffolk Theater in Riverhead for the second time in less than a year, Buffalo, New York’s DiFranco was back on Saturday, January 24th, to play in front of a packed house. Set to enchant a crowd ranging in age from twelve to sixty plus, the relatively small, intimate setting was ideal for the storyteller.

Opening the evening was Vermont native Anaïs Mitchell.  Described as many as the “Queen of modern Folk music,” it all began for Mitchell back in 2002 when she released her debut album The Song They Sang… When Rome Fell. With a style that taps into classic Folk music’s most revered acts like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Mitchell takes the simpleness of someone growing up in the country, combining it with that of a worldly point of view.  Performing a thirty minute set with herself on acoustic guitar/vocals and Ben Campbell playing both the banjo as well as drums, Mitchell flawlessly melded Folk, Country, Rock, and Bluegrass.  Armed with a light, airy voice, she was well-received by the crowd as she mixed in her older material with newer songs like “Young Man in America” and “Why We Built the Wall.” Mitchell’s latest album xoa was released in October of last year and is a worthy edition to any Folk fans collection.

With the tone set for the rest of the evening, The Suffolk Theater’s traditional ambiance had everyone ready to kick back and enjoy what would turn out to be an almost two hour set by DiFranco. Many return faces from DiFranco’s first appearance at the venue back on May 4th, 2014 were seen around the floor and back by the bar, proving she is an artist no one can see just once.  Taking to a sparsely appointed stage, accompanied by longtime bass player Todd Sickafoose on upright bass and Terrence Higgins on drums, DiFranco began with her hair let down wearing camouflage pants and a black Beatles t-shirt, ready to share her lifelong experiences of abandonment, lost hope, aspirations, and joy.

Opening with 1995’s “Not a Pretty Girl” was the perfect selection to showcase one of her favorite topics; unconventional, strong women.  Singing with purpose, DiFranco dispelled myth after myth regarding stereotypical women with lines like “I ain’t no damsel in distress/and I don’t need to be rescued/every time I say something they find hard to hear/they chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear”.  In fact, this theme would be revisited throughout the set and welcomed by the audience. Menacing acoustic guitar and an even darker bass line propelled the haunting “Dithering” as DiFranco channeled the best of the singer-songwriter movement of the ’70s.  Putting her own touch on the style, rather than singing about her lover, or unrequited love, she told a frightening tale of a society overloaded with material things and the dumbing-down being perpetrated by the media.  “Dithering” spilled into “Happy All the Time,” with DiFranco playing a simple melody on acoustic guitar and sparse bass and drums, singing about mankind having a positive attitude despite all of the negative happenings from ancient times to modern times.

Allergic to Water’s title track continued the quiet, mellow pace of the opening portion of the show, and then the pace picked up with “Angry Anymore”, a song about growing up.  Featuring a punchy, Country-tinged melody, DiFranco managed to make her acoustic guitar evoke the sound of the banjo as she furiously plucked away with her signature fingerless glove.  “See See See See” kept it going with heavy R&B flavor in the music and soulful delivery of the lyrics. The frenetic “Shy” featured shuffling drums from Higgins and loopy bass from Sickafoose as DiFranco sang hurriedly, breathlessly as some of the crowd, previously relegated to tables and chairs in the theater made their way to the front of the stage and started dancing along. DiFranco then put her guitar down and treated the crowd to a performance of two long poems.  First was “Self-Evident,” a dour poem about the impact of the September 11th attacks on America and all of the fallout following it as she touched on the war in Iraq, America’s addiction to oil, the fallacy of cable news, the nefariousness and hypocrisy of the government, while at the same time pining for the simplicity and innocence that ran through America in the twentieth century, yearning for Duke Ellington, laundry on clotheslines, and Rock-n-Roll.  This was followed by “Grand Canyon” which championed social upheaval throughout American history while simultaneously professing a love for her country and disdain that a revolution had to occur in the first place.  Real and honest, the eloquent words of DiFranco brought on a thunderous standing ovation that had the audience wanting more.

DiFranco continued on with 1996’s “Joyful Girl,” new piece “Woe Be Gone,” and 1998’s “Fuel,” which resonated the voice of fans as they were selected via request.  Throughout the night, DiFranco playfully spoke to the crowd between songs as she chatted about the music, and in the intimate setting, took the time to respond to interjections and questions.  After leaving the stage briefly, DiFranco came out for a two song encore, the first being “Untouchable Face,” a crowd favorite with the audience singing along throughout.  Departing from the studio version and its quiet, laid-back delivery, DiFranco and the band played a boisterous, energetic version to the delight of the crowd.  Show closer “32 Flavors” again had the audience singing along throughout, and the pace and intensity dwarfed the studio version.

Ani Difranco has been playing live for over twenty-five years, and it showed.  She was fearless, in tune with the crowd, and delivered the perfect mix of tense, yet light, thoughtful tunes coupled with feverish, rowdy, in your face numbers throughout the night.  She is the epitome of a seasoned road warrior. While her East Coast string of shows has ended, DiFranco will pick touring back up in March for a West Coast swing so do not miss a chance to see her.

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Gerard Smith
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