DiFranco packs Asbury Hall in Buffalo homecoming - REVIEW
blog by Deandra Modica • April 23, 2012 @ 2:28pm
The Band: Buffalo’s own Ani DiFranco returned to the Queen City with a moving acoustic set at Asbury Hall in Babeville, 341 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, Sunday night. The folk star, poet, and activist began playing shows in Buffalo at a young age and released her first self-titled record in 1990.
Over the course of her 22-year career, DiFranco’s become a Grammy Award-winner, feminist activist, respected poet, mother and beloved local figure. The musician’s autobiographical lyrics, powerful voice and distinct guitar playing continue to expand her group of devoted followers.
Now a resident of New Orleans, DiFranco is currently touring in support of her 17th studio album, ¿Which Side Are You On?, and immediately won over the crowd in Babeville with her guitar, voice and smile.
The Venue: Once slated for demolition, this downtown church was restored by DiFranco and transformed into a state-of-the-art music sanctuary now known as Babeville. The multi-purpose space is available for events year-round and has hosted numerous musical acts since opening in 2008 including The Low Anthem, Andrew Bird and Chris Trapper. The converted house of worship offers upstairs balcony seating and a fully stocked bar in the lower level. Gorgeous stained glass windows and brightly painted walls give the venue a certain warmth that’s not found in many local performance spaces.
The Crowd: An eclectic collection of 1,000 of DiFranco’s loyal admirers and new fans helped sell out this homecoming show (see Lukia Costello’s photo gallery from the show). Men and women – both young and old – gathered in the venue with friends and family members to celebrate the singer’s return. A few small children even managed to make it past security and DiFranco affectionately thanked her congregation for “coming to listen to just a girl and her guitar” throughout her set.
The Performance: It’s no surprise DiFranco found her calling at a young age. She oozes self-confidence on stage and the crowd ate it up. Everything she had to say – from political quips to her personal environmental views – were met with cheers of approval during the hour and a half show.
DiFranco looked like she was floating on air as she opened the show with “Little Plastic Castle” (1998), “Dilate” (1996), and “Untouchable Face” (1996). The musician’s blend of songs from “the bad old days” with selections from her more recent albums was enchanting. She easily transitioned from her older hits into tracks off of ¿Which Side Are You On? including “Promiscuity” and “Smiling Underneath” while chatting with the audience like old friends.
The singer gave shout-outs to her partner of seven years, music producer Mike Napolitano, several times during the 17-song set and introduced two new songs inspired by her relationship with him before putting her guitar to the side for a stirring poetry reading. The man who “made it simple” for DiFranco may have altered the artist’s perspective on love, but her advocacy for environmental changes, women’s rights and political adjustments is just as strong. I left Babeville feeling enlightened, empowered and excited for her next appearance in Buffalo.
DiFranco welcomed back her outstanding opening band, Pearl and the Beard, equipped with various percussion instruments for a rousing two-song encore. Luckily for us the band announced during its explosive opening set that it will be back to perform in the Ninth Ward on May 18.
The Verdict: DiFranco’s still got it. Some artists might throw in the towel at 41, but this singer-songwriter is still in her prime. With over 20 years of experience and an inexhaustible collection of music to play from, DiFranco’s performance satisfied all.