The Neighborhood Theatre
Charlotte, North Carolina
March 11, 2009
Charlotte put on its nicest jeans and cleanest flannel shirts and came out in droves, The Queen City geared up for a happening and ready for action. For a quaint southern town, Charlotte does okay with thinking outside of the box. But who knew that there was such culture hiding deep within its polite recesses and between its pristine city limits? North Davidson was the location of the festivities, the Neighborhood Theatre was the venue, and Ani DiFranco was the catalyst.
It was a Wednesday night, but that did not stop the party from starting early or ending late. This was a night for adventure, for the airing of frustrations accumulated throughout the weeks, a night to let loose and tell anyone who came along that they could not stand in your way. The men’s room at the Neighborhood Theatre is tucked away in a corner, not en route to anything else in the venue, and quite far from the ladies room. So when you see a bunch of women standing in line for the men’s room, you know that this is no ordinary evening in Charlotte. When I dared work my way past the crowd of women milling outside the men’s room, early into the night, I was looked up and down by several skirted sentries before being allowed access to a free urinal. I thanked them for their generosity. This was clearly their evening, and I was happy to simply be a part of it.
The show started with opener Chad Stokes, whose head and face hid nicely under a large Afro and giant beard. He wore a “Make Levees, Not War” t-shirt and spoke of things at once close and distant. He sang songs for the people of Sudan and Zimbabwe; he alternated between an acoustic guitar and a Chevron gas can converted into a six string that would have made Bo Diddly slow down and take notice; he played Dispatch’s anti-war anthem, "The General." But he was only getting the crowd going for the main event of the evening.
When Ani took the stage, she brought with her a drum and upright bass rhythm section. She took to the mic without any fanfare and immediately busted into “Done Wrong.” She then proceeded to play one long set with material spanning her decades as a performer. She was having a good time, glad to be in a comfortable pocket of the South, a place she clearly has conflicted thoughts about, and to be with kindred spirits for one great evening.
The crowd played its part; they could not have been happier or more accommodating to this “fiercely independent singer/songwriter.” Ani is one part Emily Dickinson, one part Michael Hedges and one part of Joan of Arc, with maybe just a bit of Bob Dylan thrown in for structural integrity. She plays in ways that have yet to be created, she lets herself speak through her instruments and her acrylic nails, opening up new ideas with every song. She is a constant innovator who is never content with what she has created, always looking to reinvent herself, and with it, the world around her.
Throughout the evening she played newer material as well as crowd favorites, including “Untouchable Face.” The peak of the evening came about midway through the set when Ani played the unmistakable signature riff that is “Napoleon.” This song says so much in four simple verses. It explains her longevity, her loving and her bitter sides, the source of her passion and her very reason for being so many of the things that she is so well known for. It is a story of a fellow musician who gets the call that the business likes her, they are ready to make her a star. Of course, the tale is as tragic as it is predictable. The star burns bright in its Warhol moment and is the spit out, its bones left to be gnawed on as the world moves forward in its disinterest.
It is inevitable that Ani had the opportunity to join a record label “family” at many steps in her career. But she was unwilling to compromise one ounce of her creative vision so that someone else could see to their bottom line, and she achieved success all on her own, to the extent that any musician ever has.
"Untouchable Face" continues, and this friend, this burnt out nova, calls to complain about her situation. Ani screams, “Baby, you know I still love you. But how dare you complain to me!” The message of the song speaks volumes: one must sleep in the bed they make, so make sure you are building a bed in which you are going to want to lie.
For the encore, all three members of the band walked away from their instruments and came to the front of the stage. Each picked up a different percussion instrument and they did a killer take on “Every State Line,” her anti-institutional ballad on the banality of the law, ignorance, and the regular merging of the two.
She closed out the show with “Overlap,” but it was hardly the end of the night. The streets stayed alive for hours after the show had concluded, no one wanting to give up on their Ani high, much coveted and long overdue.
Click here for more shots from the show!