The Lowry is part of the Salford Quays redevelopment in Manchester, and is a very impressive place. Overlooking the Manchester Ship Canal, it plays host to a variety of plays and events and is yet another sign of Manchester’s cultural resurgence. Hidden in the depths of the Lowry is the Quays Theatre, a suitably intimate venue for tonight’s show.
Support came in the figure of Gail Ann Dorsey, who some people may recognise as David Bowie‘s bass player. However, there’s much more to Dorsey than a session musician. Her tall, shaven headed frame gives her a real stage presence and although she confessed to nerves, this wasn’t at all betrayed during her short spot.
Dorsey opened with Where Is The Love, a song from her 1988 album The Corporate World. The anti-materialistic bent of the lyrics (“we’ve got diamond rings, but tell me where is the love”) is just as relevant as they were 16 years ago and Dorsey’s voice is a strong, rich instrument of wonder.
Most of the rest of Dorsey’s set was taken with tracks from her latest album, I Used To Be, and beautiful ballads such as Nether Land and Whether You Are The One went down extremely well with the audience. Stripped down acoustic performances are difficult to pull off, but Dorsey managed it beautifully – so much so that there were more than a few people clutching newly purchased copies of I Used To Be during the interval.
When Ani DiFranco skips onto stage just after 9:30pm, it’s difficult to believe she’s been touring almost non-stop for over 15 years. She’s full of energy and exudes charisma as she picks up her acoustic guitar and slams straight into Shy. The only other person onstage with her is double bassist Todd Sickafoose who lends a nicely dramatic and atmospheric touch to the sound.
“Welcome to Dreary Night, starring, uh, me” DiFranco giggled at the start of the performance, presumably with tongue firmly in cheek. For there’s nothing dreary about an Ani DiFranco performance. Despite the fact that the most right-wing Republican administration in living memory had just been re-elected in her home country, the epitome of progressive liberalism seemed in a remarkably good mood. Indeed, her only reference to the past week’s events came when she spat out the opening line of Your Next Bold Move (“coming of age in the plague of Reagan and Bush”).
Otherwise, this was a celebration of DiFranco’s career. She mostly concentrated on older material, although we were treated to some previews of her brand new album, due out in January 2005. Although none of the new song titles were divulged, it was enough to suggest that this could be one of DiFranco’s best albums to date.
As well as being a fantastic songwriter, DiFranco’s skills with a guitar are just awe-inspiring. Seeing her up close in such an intimate venue gives the audience a chance to see just how effortlessly talented she is. The acoustic setting brought DiFranco’s guitar playing to the fore and whether it be strumming through Cradle And All or finger-picking her way around Evolve, every chord she played was a chord played by a true master of her art. She even managed it while pulling a variety of silly faces at the audience, thus endearing her to us even more.
Needless to say, her audience absolutely loved her – when requests for oldies such as Out Of Habit and Both Hands were shouted out, she dutifully played them to rapturous applause. “Thank you, Ani” came a voice from the darkness. “No, thank you” was DiFranco’s reply, “we don’t get the chance to play those that often”. It’s unusual for an artist to connect with the audience so completely, but DiFranco manages it every time.
After an exhilarating version of Shameless, our time was up with DiFranco looking genuinely touched by her reception. It would be nice if she could play some other cities over than Manchester and London next time she comes to the UK, but until then it’s always worth travelling miles to see the most talented songwriter of her generation.