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Ani DeLivers

Before she was the poster grrl (with no poster) for angry white college girls cum third wave feministas, there must have been a time when she was just plain Ani DiFranco, fledgling singer/songwriter. If I had a time machine that could only be used to check out famous rock stars before they broke, I'd check in on Ani, if just to see what this girl was all about before her devoted disciples latched onto their mini-minstrel. And I say "their" with a tinge of wistful longing for what could have been, had her fans not throttled their hero in the death-grip of adoration. But who can blame them? She's managed to embody basically all the ideals of an enthusiastic group of young feminists--she's young, beautiful, bisexual, fearlessly independent, adorably compassionate yet viciously smart, with pitch-perfect feminist politics and a voice to match, and she can rock out with way more chords than the five the Indigo Girls use. But now the expectation/delivery cycle has reached its inevitable conclusion, wherein an insular bubble of rabid fans alienate so many potential listeners from the eloquent tongue-lashings she dishes out so well.

Sure, she'll keep writing great songs full of imaginative poetry and surprising turns of phrase. Her voice is still strong and expressive as ever, mirroring her skill on the guitar. Ani's one-woman acoustic performance last Wednesday night at the Civic proved that she can easily rock a house full of nearly 2,000 people for an hour-and-a-half all by herself and make it look easy. I can't help but think that if she hadn't been spoiled by an audience of devotees, she could have been the next Michelle Shocked or Bob Dylan, or, like, the Calvin Johnson of folk music. Picture her touring with Pantera or Backstreet Boys, or even Melissa Etheridge for that matter, and blowing their crowds' minds. I mean I'd hate to throw her to the lions like that, but there's just so much to be gained from getting a righteous babe with plenty of talent and more than enough nerve to kick 'em where it hurts, right where they live.

Was it her goal at the beginning of it all to develop a fan base that would coddle her? I doubt it, but that's the way it's become. Even her banter with the audience--while adorably humble and even a wee bit spastic (and if there's one thing I truly love in this world, it's a spaz)--is completely lacking the adversarial tone of some of her best work. So instead of challenging people who need to be challenged, she ends up preaching to the choir at every show, and gets immediate unbridled appreciation for a song like "Phase," which sounded to me like a dark, existential meditation about what a void of inspiration means to a songwriting warrior. I mean I'm all for unconditional love and everything, but for her existential howl to be met with a yeah-Ani-you-rock kind of vibe seems totally insensitive. It's also a good indicator of how far-gone some of her fans are, who experience the all-powerful Ani DiFranco phenomenon, rather than an evolving human being who's fighting to keep her soul afloat.

Yuppie Exorcism

God bless the yuppies who went to the Bridge School Benefit last weekend, helping all those disabled children! Spreading out your lily-white blankets in a luxurious expanse of space--so what if the show is sold out? You need that space for your assortment of cheese and crackers. And what do you do when fellow concertgoers desperate for a little patch of grass sit down next to you? That's right, my little Stepford Husbands and Wives, you twitch like you're about to fry a capacitor, but still manage to fire off dirty looks. And when the intruders get up to find a more welcoming spot, you spread your blanket even further. But I guess I should have expected as much from this benefit, which is strongly funded by the yuppie demographic. Still, I found a nice spot with a perfect view of a giant screen. So ... let's all pay $40 to sit outside and watch MTV Unplugged? Pretty much. With the exceptions of Dashboard Confessional and Incubus, who both suck, everyone sounded great. But the show was predictably blah--obviously not the place to break new ground artistically. Wilco played so early that the sun washed out the giant Shoreline screen, their image developing like an agonizingly slow Polaroid picture. But if you missed Willie Nelson give it his all with just a harmonica player for backup, well, then you done missed out.

Mike Connor

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From the October 29-November 5, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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