- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

It was rapture, Ani DiFranco-style, Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club, with a red-hot collective bliss so big the venue probably was visible from outer space.

Modestly taking the stage with her guitar and only an upright-bass player for accompaniment, her voice and dexterous picking as strong and compelling as ever, she proved that neither time nor political unrest has taken a toll on her live performances or high spirits.

Miss DiFranco delighted the sold-out club with songs spanning much of her 15-year recording career, including a handful of tracks from her 2004 release, “Educated Guess.” When it came to politics, the spry folk singer was surprisingly low-key. “I don’t knooooow,” she said in that upbeat voice of hers. “I feel like I wanna talk to you, but I don’t have much to say.”

She did chat a little about the recent March for Women’s Lives, in which she participated as both a marcher and a performer. These days, Miss DiFranco explained, she’s focusing her energies on furthering causes close to her heart instead of trying to convince her foes of their misdirection. One day, “they’ll just get it,” she said with certainty before breaking back into a song.

A contingent of her original fan base was there (a little older and wiser) along with a new-generation college crowd. The women, as always, slightly outnumbered the men.

A reserved set by opening act Joe Henry only stoked fans’ desire for the 5-foot-2-inch singer — because, as many already know, when it comes to Miss DiFranco, there’s no halfway. Her fans are die-hard and steadfast and will even brave a clubwide cigarette ban (per the artist’s request) to see her, if only for a moment.

Miss DiFranco’s story is one of never-ending independence. She began her musical career with bar performances at age 9 and started her own record label, Righteous Babe, at 20. Ever since, she has led an earnest and successful campaign against the corporate music industry, becoming a do-it-yourself poster queen and a freethinking institution for her legions of dedicated fans.

Miss DiFranco kicked off her 9:30 gig with confidence and glee, jumping headfirst into a delectable oldie, “Names, Dates and Times,” and then segueing into “Educated Guess,” the title track from her latest CD. Her guitar playing could not have been better.

Transfixed, the crowd watched and probably wondered how so much heartfelt, layered sound could come from one person with one guitar. The show also was peppered with old and new spoken-word pieces, which, to Miss DiFranco’s infectious delight, received ecstatic whoops and applause.

“I feel good today,” she proclaimed midconcert with a grin as the awe-struck crowd stood side by sweaty side — all eyes on the star — awaiting her next move. Suddenly, the club’s pinkish-red lights flashed on the audience. “Look at you,” Miss DiFranco exclaimed. “All red and smiling.”

There was love all around, and everything else — the horror of TV news, the here-too-soon Washington heat — fell by the wayside.

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