This was to be my third audience with Ani DiFranco, but I’d not seen her for two years, during which time she’d released another basket-load of albums. This gig could well be the same as last time she played here, I remember thinking, or it could be totally different.
The outcome was somewhere in between, as on she came, big smile for her public, and started telling a story which suddenly became Freakshow from current album To The Teeth, during which a new band member had manifested herself; Julie came complete with four keyboards, an accordian and an oboe, filling up a stage which had been somewhat empty last time save for Ani’s personality. Accompanied by long-time bassist Jason and drummer Stefan, we were away.
Just like last time, The Forum’s entry organisation was non-existent; people picking up tickets were forced to queue with people yet to buy tickets and people already holding tickets thought they had to be in the same queue. Just like last time, the venue was BLOODY FREEZING. Just like last time Ani laid into The Spice Girls, although this time Mel C was singled out for the Ani treatment.
But Jason had a double-bass (apparently they’re very fashionable just now) and Julie was a wonderful addition. There were, this time, more tall people in the audience, so we could all stand in one area and take comfort from safety in numbers while several miles beneath us grumbles were uttered about Mean Fiddler not introducing height restrictions. Through all of these secondary matters Ani played an ace set (when doesn’t she) that was capped by Shameless, thus sending me away happy. We got to hear about her home town of Buffalo, “a place you pass through on the way to the Niagra Falls;” she told us about her surprise on discovering nose rings were apparently a sign of affection for Britney Spears; we had a foolish bouncer attempt to confiscate my camera and we had a gurrlie duet from Ani and Julie which was just divine.
She’s been around for ages, but she shows no sign of changing that which we love her for; my only niggling doubt is about the “I’m just a humble folksinger, cultural illiterate, don’t mind me while I sing my little folk songs, you just go right ahead there” routine. It now looks so polished that it must have been rehearsed, but ultimately where’s the harm in being warm, engaging, friendly, creative, motivated and doing what you want to do well? Ani has very much found her niche in the music business and honed it to perfection. She is still one of the most electric acts ever to grace a London stage, and for a lady with an acoustic guitar that’s really something.