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[whitespace] Another Side of Ani

Di Franco brings a bigger band to the Civic but comes up short on intensity

By David Espinoza

BY THE TIME the lights dimmed for the main act on April 15 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, the packed house--a motley group of green-haired, nose-pierced guys and grrrls--had already gone through a few rounds of stomping on the floor and shouting, "Ani! Ani!" Twenty minutes earlier, the crowd caught a first glimpse of the righteous babe when she played drums with opening act Hammel on Trial. Now, cries erupted from the floor as a single spotlight illuminated our most-adored folk-rocker hero, Ani Di Franco. Looking mighty foxy in an olive top and dark pants that showed off her tiny frame, Di Franco sang a brief intro before tearing into "Shameless" from 1996's Dilate.

Maybe it's a sign of success, or maybe she's just gotten tired of the earthy routine, but the April 15 performance looked and sounded much different than past Di Franco concerts. There was eye-candy via professional lighting effects, a silver curtain background and a disco-like tune toward the end of the night. Di Franco's band has also increased in number, with not just a bassist, drummer and keyboardist as for her last stop in town but also a saxophonist and trumpeter. For longtime Di Franco fans, it's quite a contrast, considering that she used to rock the house solo, with just a guitar and her voice.

There's certainly no question about Di Franco's status as an exceptional performer--she has a stage presence as powerful as the icon of her Righteous Babe Records label. Still, Saturday's show proved mellower than past Santa Cruz appearances. A lot of that had to do with Di Franco's focusing on material from her latest albums, Up Up Up Up Up Up and To the Teeth, both released last year and both less feisty and overall slower than previous efforts. Though you couldn't tell as she sang--she'd twirl and lean back before whipping her body up to the microphone--Di Franco between tunes seemed a tad beat. That shouldn't be surprising since she's constantly on tour, usually after recording an album--and she's averaged about one every 12 months for the past 10 years.

As other artists strive to keep a left-leaning political urgency in their lyrics, Di Franco seems to be struggling to keep the music as radical as her words. Di Franco has already written songs that are hard to top, so when she played a new, unrecorded tune about divisions between black and white Americans and the deterioration of our cities, it came across as more of a speech than a song. But there were classic moments--Di Franco and right-hand woman Julie Wolf singing "Not Angry Anymore" or the full band rendition of "Gravel."

Au Revoir What-Nots

After a four-and-a-half-year reign as Santa Cruz's premier indie-rock band, the What-Nots are calling it quits. (Singer Eden Fineday soon heads to France for her final year of school.) True, they never did sell out the Catalyst or make the cover of Rolling Stone, but you'd have to be insane not to recognize the guitar work and guy-versus-girl duets on the band's 1997 self-titled debut and last year's Too Much of Everything as pure heaven. Chances are, just like the Pixies, the What-Nots will be appreciated for their innovative music long after they've played their last show--which is Thursday at the Catalyst.

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From the April 19-26, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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