Gig Review by Adrienne Frances with Photography by Andy Watson

At a seated Birmingham Town Hall, with hardly half of the seats filled, a man with long long dreadlocks took to the stage to introduce the evening.  I’ve seen Ani Difranco over 15 times now, and this wasn’t a face I recognized, but in recent years I’ve seen her less and less, so perhaps this is the new norm.

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Chastity Brown is one woman, with Luke Enyeart supporting her on guitar and harmonies. From Tenessee originally, and played Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath only a few weeks earlier, she was confident on stage – big clear vocals, and her deep south roots threaded through her vocals on ‘Drive Slow’.  An incredible voice, and her sound overall made me think of a female Iron & Wine, but with more of a bluesy vibe.

“Are you okay with the blues here in Birmingham?”  Why yes, Chastity. Yes I am.

Songs like ‘Colorado’ and ‘Carried Away’ were beautifully punctuated by her political ruminations, about how she spent so much time looking for musicians and artists who were women of colour, or people of colour, or just women generally who are carving their own path – “pushing all the bullshit to one side”. She’s now carving her own path so she is represented.

She happily chatted away to the small crowd, telling us of 9 or 10 years ago when she was too freaked out by being elevated on stage and her voice so amplified, that after shows she’d hide and watch to see if ANYONE would buy her CDs from her humble merch stand. She’s come along way since then, both in confidence, and in the queue that developed by her stand in the space between her set and Ani’s waiting for her to come out and sign CDs.

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Ani Difranco. I love her.  I have loved her since 1996.  I have loved her through heartache and death and sad stories and happy times.  I have loved her forever, and as is my nature, I will love her forever more.  I felt ambivalent before the gig, but then she took to the stage, and my creaking empty heart flooded with love once more.  When the world feels unfamiliar, and full of lies, I am comforted by feeling the love course through my body, reminding me that some things are constant. Some words are true.  Some music is that important.

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Starting with Angry Anymore felt cathartic, and beautiful, and like I could breathe for the first time in a long time.  Quickly followed by Two Little Girls, angrier and faster than previous rendtions, precursored by her memory of meeting a ‘colossal girl’ when first living in New York City, as a ‘queer or maybe confused’ girl.

Allergic to Water is a track that’s always intrigued me, and now listening to it live I’m struck by the lyrics: 
“And I don’t really want your sympathy / I’m just telling you so you’ll understand / This is me, sincerely / Doing the best that I can”

But then the thought is gone as she launches into a short story about growing up on the border of Canada, and starting her career playing Canadian folk festivals, and how that led to her writing Names & Dates & Times.. which tonight had a completely different arrangement to the original 1993 track.

Swan Dive was a highlight for me, and is always a favourite track whenever she plays it.  My hearts swells with love.  My heart swells with feminist pride.  I am reminded of what is important to me, and why I’ve loved her for so long.  What’s not to love about lines such as “I’m gonna pull out my tampon and start splashing around?”  I gather that might not be to EVERYONE’S taste, but her work speaks to me like no other.

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Later in the set she talked about how ‘Alrighty’, a track off her new album ‘Binary’, was written after playing in Manchester Cathedral – and her surprise that it’s still a working cathedral, and she spent time watching “dudes in robes” and  was their way all day long.. and during that time she just started to wonder about the concept of ‘god’: “and I was like, ‘so HOW is that a DUDE?’”  I love that she’s still political, still questioning.  The joy for me in seing her live are her anecdotes and chats she has with the crowd, and tonight did not disappoint.

Everything from Binary was new to me (though I nabbed the 2xLP at the end!) and was pleasingly political.  The tracks that she invited Chastity Brown back on stage felt like they could have been a bit more exciting – but Chastity’s vocals were largely drowned out by the sound of the whole band.  Similarly by this point, Ani’s vocals were also muddied by the overall sound production, and she seemed to notice this and kept gesturing at the mixing desk.  Despite this, she gained a standing ovation from the crowd.  It may not have been sold out, but those who were there clearly LOVE her.

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And then I’m struck again – remembering. A much earlier gig of hers, in London, in maybe 1998, with my friend Sascha.. Standing room only. Sascha snuck in an audio recording device with a tiny mic pinned to his collar. We felt so nervous and naughty.  There was a tiny pixie girl with bleached hair selling her own zine to people inside the venue. She was so alluring, so memorable, so 90s.  Things felt frantic and important. The gig felt important and urgent. And now we sit in our chairs and listen to political statements.  I’m struck by ageing, and timelines, and changing lives.  I still know Sascha.  We still love Ani.

Some things change, and some things simply don’t.

Angry anymore
Two little girls
Allergic to Water
Names & Dates & Times
Swan Dive
The Slant (spoken word)
Reckoning – solo
Deferred Gratification
Even more
Alla This
Play God

Joyful Girl

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