Going in, someone suggested this might be a good time for a ’90s Revival Night. But, despite the overwhelming preponderance of audience members hailing from the Bill and Hillary years, Ani DiFranco at the Lobero was more of a passionate testament than a test of times past. She took the stage to screams and never relented with her brisk attacks on a number of acoustic guitars. Opening with “Swan Dive,” she sang, “Gravity is nothing to me, moving at the speed of sound / I’m just going to get my feet wet / Until I drown.”
More than her percussive musicality, enhanced dramatically by drummer Herlin Riley, more than her disarming stage presence, somehow both incisive and sweet, it’s DiFranco’s writing that gets under our skin. And though her “aw, gee” stage patter kept denigrating any meaning found within her tunes, her set list of 17-plus songs kept brain cells firing throughout. In “As Is” she waxed up the metaphors: “When I look down / I miss all the good stuff, / and when I look up / I trip over things.” For “Dilate” she brought it home with disarming simplicity: “Life used to be lifelike / Now it’s more like showbiz.” Sure, she’s no Wallace Stevens, but her insistence that even the avoidance of life’s illusions can be illusory was choice.
Opener Sean Hayes fiendishly hybridized Billie Holiday and hip-hop into strummy folk, but the predominately female house was clearly there for DiFranco. She tried to elevate the mood with a rousing version of Florence Reece’s “Which Side Are You On,” made pertinacious here to the Brave New World of GOP anti-feminism, but the evening had already peaked with the subversive intelligence of “Promiscuity.” “Some of us like to stick close to home and some of us are Columbus,” she sang. And it never once felt like nostalgia.