|In an age where most musicians are just quite happy to take their latest pay cheque and snort whatever drugs are available, it's reassuring to know that there are still people out there who virtually define the phrase 'for real'.|
Asbury Delaware Church, in Ani DiFranco's home town of Buffalo, New York was standing derelict and crumbling for many years, when DiFranco decided to buy it, restore it and transform into Babeville - live music venue and headquarters of her own Righteous Babe record label.
The entire project took almost 10 years to complete, and to celebrate the opening of Babeville, DiFranco and her band played 2 gigs in September 2007 - the subject of her third official live DVD. It's always a tall order to capture the buzzing ball of energy that is an Ani DiFranco gig, but Live At Babeville does a pretty good job.
Luckily, there's no pretentious visual effects or cutting in interviews inbetween the songs to distract us here. Beautifully filmed by five hi-definition cameras dotted around the venue and with a mighty Dolby 5.1 Surround soundtrack, it looks and sounds perfect.
As usual with Ani's shows, the set-list seems to be whatever she felt like playing on the night. With a 20 year career to look back on, there will always be fan favourites that are missed out on, but the moment that she bounces onto stage and crashes into a superb version of Napoleon, it's clear that her adoring public are happy to hear whatever she wishes to play.
Her backing band do the usual exceptional job - bassist Todd Sickafoose has toured with DiFranco for a number of years now and he, along with drummer Alison Williams and 'vibes' player Mike Dillon nicely beef up the sound. Yet it's DiFranco who's the star, easily chatting to the enraptured audience about her new baby.
Several songs are reworked for the occasion, such as the rarely performed Not A Pretty Girl while Fuel is given a jazzy makeover, with Sickafoose putting in a superlative performance on the upright bass. Best of all is the mid-section acoustic performance, where DiFranco effortlessly holds the audience in the palm of her hand with stellar performances of Unrequited and Shy, before the band gradually come back on, one by one, for the classic You Had Time.
There are also a couple of new songs premiered, which seem to suggest that her next album could be a return to the old-school DiFranco sound. Present/Infant is classic Ani, reassessing her feminist ideals in the wake of motherhood, while Alla This is a fantastic anti-war polemic ("I won't support the troops, 'cos every last one of them's being duped") with her trademark blistering guitar performance to the fore.
Expertly edited and wonderfully presented, this is a very special souvenir of a very special night. It will also provide some short-term relief for those of us suffering from cold turkey, waiting for that next DiFranco studio album.