Still Righteous: Ani DiFranco kicked off the Ann Arbor Summer Festival at The Power Center
The concert at The Power Center opened with talented young singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx. Her original songs featured inventive imagery, warm vocals, and expressive guitar. She also showed an offbeat sense of humor, introducing one song as being about “how we’re all going to die, and that’s OK.”
DiFranco hit the stage in a burst of energy that barely let up throughout her set. When she momentarily got lost in the lyrics of her opening song, she and her band -- bassist/keyboardist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Terrence Higgins -- literally didn’t miss a beat, quickly recovering and leading DiFranco to joke, “Thanks for coming to rehearsal.”
In a statement on her website, she notes that her latest album, last year’s Binary, brought the return of the “more engaged, more Big P ‘Political’” Ani DiFranco after a period of more introspective work. She featured four songs from that album, including “Play God,” “a little ditty about reproductive freedom,” which drew an appreciative response from the crowd.
Her lyrics are as punchy and as powerful as ever; in “Alrighty,” a dig at hypocrisy in organized religion, she sang: “See how quickly shit gets absurd / You invent angels, then you ignore birds.”
Throughout the show, DiFranco drew liberally from her extensive back catalog to the delight of the appreciative crowd. She opened with three mid-'90s classics, “Names and Dates and Times,” “Not a Pretty Girl,” and the still-brilliant “Little Plastic Castle,” bringing fresh life to all of them. That held true for all the old favorites, which also included “Anticipate,” “Napoleon,” and “If He Tries Anything.” She fittingly closed the main set with 1996’s “Shameless” -- “We better have a good explanation / For all the fun that we had.”
Songs of more recent vintage included “Zoo” and “Life Boat,” both from 2012. And maybe the coolest part of the show was 2014’s “Genie,” which saw the musicians move to the front of the stage around a single microphone, with Higgins making effective use of a cajón (box drum) for a different rhythmic feel.
An encore featured “Fire Door,” reaching all the way back to DiFranco’s first album in 1990, followed by one more classic, the great “32 Flavors.” It was a fantastic end to a satisfying show, from a truly original artist who’s still creating relevant and compelling music.
The concert was an electric opening to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival season. (Top of the Park starts Friday!)
Names and Dates and Times
Not a Pretty Girl
Little Plastic Castle
Still My Heart
If He Tries Anything
Bob Needham is a freelance writer and the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com.
The Ann Arbor Summer Festival presents both main-stage, ticketed events and its free, outdoor Top of the Park series through July 4. Full details are available on the festival website.