Ani DiFranco at Union Chapel
A GT gig review
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Singer, songwriter, artist, CEO, poet, gay rights activist, the irrepressible Ani DiFranco wears many hats in her day to day life touring across the globe and running her Righteous Babe record label. Most recently that relentless touring schedule brings her to London’s iconic Union Chapel for a sold out show in support of her new album Which Side Are You On.
Arguably Ani’s most commercially successful release was 1998’s Little Plastic Castle and it was with this album’s title track that Ani opened the show. Armed with just her collection of assorted guitars for the entirety of the set, Ani gave this stripped down version of the song a surprising amount of energy. Her unique style of playing - Ani gaffa tapes fake acrylic nails to each finger on her right hand instead of using a pick - allows her to produce a level of ferociousness in her sound that is fully executed when she plays solo.
The title track from Ani’s 1996 album Dilate is the second track on the set list and obviously one of the crowed favourites. Both Ani and the audience seemed to connect emotionally with the songs subject matter of damaging, unhealthy, enduring unrequited love. Another track taken from Little Plastic Castle was As Is, a more typically folk offering but juxtaposed with some of Ani’s trademark biting lyrics “Just give up and admit you're an asshole. You would be in some good company”.
At this point in the set, before introducing some of the tracks from her new album, Ani took a moment to reflect on the political events that inspired the albums conception. Famously an openly Bisexual artist (though she is currently married to a man) Ani has long been a fierce supporter of gay rights and in particular the ongoing battle in the US for marriage equality. With a presidential election looming and the shifting tides on the US political landscape these themes organically found their way onto Ani’s new album. Changing up the pace Ani then took requests from the audience for what to play next. Considering her back catalogue is now 21 albums deep this was a bold move from DiFranco who was then inundated with requests.
A voice shouted out from the upper tier of pews (remember we’re in a converted church here guys) and demanded Overlap, in our opinion one of Ani’s most beautiful songs. “I can’t play that” came the response from DiFranco, quickly followed by the audience member’s reply “I’ll play it for you”. He may have been joking but Ani took him up on the offer and invited him on stage to accompany her on guitar. To our surprise and delight not only was he proficient on guitar, but he could sing too! Our investigations later revealed that the audience member was singer songwriter Declan Bennett whose work has received rave reviews from us in the past.
In addition to her impressive recording career DiFranco also released a book of poetry in 2007 entitled Verses. Tonight Ani debuted a poem she had been working on for years but had only finished in her hotel room earlier that day. Even DiFranco’s speaking voice is dynamic, melodic and has a meditative quality that allows the words and meaning of her poems to nestle into the listeners consciousness.
After wrapping up her set with a stomping version of another Little Plastic Castle track Gravel, Ani returned at the insistence of the audience for an encore to play another fan favourite, 32 Flavours. Ani’s guitar gave out towards the end of the song but it didn’t matter, the audience were delicately chanting in unison the songs fade out and in the setting of the beautiful Union Chapel it was one of those perfect unplanned moments that served as a fitting close to great evening of music from one of the most influential and truly unique singer songwriters of recent years.
Words: Chris O’Gorman