The stage of Temple’s Liacouras Center is a far cry from the tiny coffeehouses where folk singer Ani DiFranco played in her formative years. But with all that has changed over the course of her 10-year career, one thing that remains constant is her zeal for performance and rapport with her audiences.
Rivaling screams from a Temple basketball game, Ani and her five-piece backing band took the stage to the tune of “The Diner” at the Liacouras Center on Monday. From the outset, Ani poured as much emotion as she could muster into each note she played, diving about the stage with her guitar, attacking the strings during the louder moments and gently strumming them during the more peaceful points. Considering she had a cold, her delivery was an even more impressive feat.
“Our tour bus is like a petri dish,” she joked at one point. After making use of a pack of Kleenex tossed from a generous fan, she laughingly said: “I’ve never blown my nose onstage before, and I’ve done it twice tonight. I wonder what’s next…”
Ani was well received by the crowd, who sang along on every word to “Untouchable Face.” But she also received the crowd quite nicely; her lively banter and down-to-earth personality did just as good a job connecting with her audience as her lyrics.
With the presidential election less than a week away, Ani made her political views clear. Like most other current folk singers, Ani gave her support for Ralph Nader and the Green Party before diving into “Done Wrong.” She later played the capitol punishment-themed “Crime For Crime.”
Equal time was given to her more personal, introspective songs, such as the intense, faded-love drama of “Providence,” and a beautifully chilling performance of “Adam And Eve.”
Ani also showcased three new numbers, two of which have the same funk and soul leanings as her past two albums. Her backing band, including a trumpet and sax, brought a subtle funk to most of the songs, especially on the greatly re-worked “Out Of Habit.” In contrast, she also played a new version of “Not So Soft” that featured bongo drumming and an almost tribal feel, hinting at yet another musical direction.
After an exuberant encore – a deadpan cover of Rick James’ “Superfreak,” in which Ani and her band were joined onstage by opener Sara Lee and her band – the show took a seemingly abrupt end. The band bowed, Ani waved graciously to the crowd…and they were gone. A longer set would have made for a smoother end, but all things considered, the performance was great, giving Philly music fans a much needed dose of intelligent, beautiful, and just plain rockin’ folk music.