"Man, this is so fucking weird, it's unbelievable." So begins Ani DiFranco on "Living In Clip," her recently released live double CD. Maybe DiFranco was taking a moment to muse over 1996 -- the year she toured incessantly, recorded two full-length albums ("Dilate" and "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere" with folk singer Utah Phillips) and an EP of mixes, filled the pages of music, news and business magazines, graced the cover of Ms. and went from being everyone's favorite feminist folkie to Indie Queen of the music world. While her anointment may seem "fucking weird," it isn't arbitrary. The 26-year-old maverick has remained independent of the mainstream music business throughout, releasing on her own Righteous Babe label records that attack big subjects -- love, politics, identity -- with a voice both gutsy and vulnerable.
Like Bruce Springsteen or Billy Bragg, DiFranco is a magnetic performer whose music is best experienced live. Unlike her nine previous self-produced studio albums, "Clip" captures her fierce guitar work, her sometimes tumultuous, sometimes silky voice and her quirky humor, all at their organic and spontaneous best. The album also conveys the energy and emotion of a DiFranco show, events where the rapturous shrieks of her fans often serve as an integral fourth instrument alongside DiFranco's guitar, Andy Stochansky's drums and Sara Lee's bass.
Fully aware of the impact she has on the young women who pack her shows, DiFranco offers up her songs as weapons. "Hide and Seek," an obscure
DiFranco song about woman's battle to keep abusive men at bay, sounds hauntingly beautiful and sharp all at once: "Next time he wants to know what your problem is/Next time he wants to know where your anger comes from/Just tell him the problem is his/Just tell him the anger just comes." On "Gravel," the only new song on the album, she dissects the murky reaches of love and lust with blunt words: "You were never a good lay/You were never a good friend/But what can I say? I adore you." And on "I'm No Heroine," one of the album's most explosive performances, her voice pleads: "I hope that somewhere, some woman hears my music and it helps her through her day." As DiFranco spits out the last syllable, ecstatic screams of gratitude erupt from the crowd.
The audience wasn't miked during performances, so thankfully the recordings aren't mired in endless cheering and gratuitous hoots. But the songs are punctuated by DiFranco's infectious giggles, her rambling anecdotes and her lovable rapport with drummer Stochansky, none of which garble the flow of the album. Several songs that sounded restrained on "Dilate" live up to their brazen potential on "Clip." "C'mon fucker don't be shy," DiFranco growls at a lover in "Shy." "Amazing Grace," which dragged on the studio version, sounds
ethereal here, bolstered by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. And on "Adam and Eve," DiFranco's disturbing wail transforms the song into a haunting elegy to a failed relationship.
Although by now most people have heard of Ani DiFranco, many of them still haven't actually heard her. For those unfamiliar with her music, if not her persona, "Living in Clip" is a perfect introduction to her powerfully sexy voice and dynamic onstage aura. And the more than two hours of live music, along with the 36-page photo album of the tour tucked into the CD, should keep longtime devotees sated until the next time Ani rolls into town.