Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ani D vs. St. V

9:30 Club and I are like an old married couple now. I’ve been there three times in the past week: St. Vincent on Feb. 24, Ani DiFranco last night, and the argument with the manager over those State Radio tickets in between. Along the way there’s been boredom, joy, rage, a little bit of dancing, a lot of Abita Purple Haze, and at least one affair with the Verizon Center (oh baby, I’ll never leave you for the NBA again!).

I think we’re in a good place now. Last night, I discovered that there’s a bar in the basement. I’ve been going there for 8 years and had no clue. How did I miss that?? The beer’s a little expensive—I drunkenly asked for “the cheapest thing you have” and was handed a $6 bottle of Miller Lite—but it’s a lot of fun to hang out after the show with the hardcore fans who’ve stuck around, hoping the artist will wander down from the dressing rooms.

As for the concerts: Ani won. Hands down. I wasn’t expecting to say that: I didn’t go into her show a devoted fan, even though I’d really liked the handful of songs friends had sent me over the years (“32 Flavors,” “Loom,” "Untouchable Face," etc.). But one too many teenage experiences with unhygienic weirdos in “Here Comes Little Naked Me” t-shirts shunted her into the area of my brain reserved for tie-dye and Manic Panic.

Indeed, there was a lot of tie-dye and Manic Panic in the audience last night. But then Ani got up on stage with a tiny tight little muscular body and big eyes and a brown bouffant and four tall, reedy male bandmates towering all around her, and with one strum of her guitar she created an electric energy that didn’t go away for an hour and a half.

Aesthetically, St. Vincent’s concert shared a lot with Ani’s. St. V came onstage with a blunt haircut and a band of dudes; she stopped to monologue every couple of songs. But as my fellow 9:30-wives Liz and Christine pointed out, she just completely didn’t know how to own the crowd. Ani did.

I had heard from friends in NYC and Edinburgh that St. V was basically the Second Coming live. But as she stood on the stage in an affectedly knock-kneed way and talked? In questions? About the fact that she had to cancel a gig in Ohio? Because it turned out to be at an S&M club?, she just looked very, very young. She’s got a lot of talent, but her songs are all bright and cool and hard, like strange little baubles from another planet, and they crumble to bits when delivered nervously.

I got the impression that she had the power to jolt an audience totally primed and ready to go, but she had no clue what to do when it wasn’t. And she was SOL this time thanks to Wildbirds and Peacedrums, the angrily hip steel-drum banging opening act from Sweden.

Plus, her new haircut kind of looked like this:

Finally, she didn’t play her most popular song, and in case you couldn’t tell from before, musicians who don’t play their sing-alongs are a pet peeve of mine. GRRR. I spent the entire evening leaning forward, thinking, oh, is this the beginning of ‘Now Now’? I bet this is going to be ‘Now Now.’

Nope. There was a five-minute one-note electric “jam session” at the end (think Sigur Ros at its worst), but no ‘Now Now.’

I am an easy concertgoer to please: give me a toy with my Happy Meal, a prize with my cereal, and whatever other crap you put in there, I’ll be happy. Most people are the same way. Why do so many bands pretend otherwise?

…Ani played two or three of her greatest hits, but that wasn’t the only reason she knocked it out of the park. Her choice to do that was just part of a goodwill-covenant she threw down on the audience the instant she got onstage. She was totally there in the moment: not whining about a cancelled gig, not dreamily strumming improvisations, just focused and white-hot.

She’s got 12 years of age and 16 of solo-act experience on St. V., though. We’ll see about that Annie Clark. In the mean time:

"Untouchable Face" - Ani DiFranco


  1. Hi

    Love the blog--really funny, great writing! Also love the Ani song--new favorite--keep it up!

  2. I'd agree- I wasn't at Ani this time, but I've been to two of her concerts before and every time I am entranced. There's a reason she tours constantly- she's really, really good live. I think I'm a bigger Ani fan than Annie fan, but mostly just due to Ani's huge body of work. I think give St. V a few years and she'll be able to command a crowd more consistently. I was often wowed- but that end noise thing left my ears ringing for days in a totally bad (not bad ass) way.