The near-sellout crowd was constituted by a large contingent of Syracuse’s LGBT community, who turned up to voice their approval for the openly bisexual singer who first publicly addressed her orientation in the song “In or Out” from her 1992 album Imperfectly, and has championed equal rights for same-sex couples ever since. But DiFranco’s across-the-board appeal shone through at the Westcott as the singer-songwriter was able to affect all sexes and orientations with equal passion through her introspective lyrics and rock’n’roll vibe.
After a brief set from opener Gaby Moreno, DiFranco kicked off her set with “Done Wrong” from her 1996 album Dilate, still her highest-selling record. It was evident that many in the crowd must have a copy stashed in their CD collection somewhere, as people sang along to the complicated situation described in the lyrics: “That makes me the jerk with the heartache/ here to sing to you about how I’ve been done wrong.”
It’s hard to imagine the fury coming out of such a pint-size performer, as DiFranco appears to be not much taller than 5 feet, while swaying and posturing a super-svelte figure. But boy can she let it loose, as evident on another song she visited from Dilate, “Napoleon,” perhaps a short-order complex disguised in song. Her energy comes through in ways that only certain performers can elicit from a crowd, as she is a performer not hip to many casual ears, but blessed with a devout fan base that appears to straddle the line of musical lust.
Her five-piece band provided a subtle backdrop which never really overstepped the Righteous Babe Records founder, who is the center of attention during her performances. “Half Assed” and “Nicotine” both from her 2006 album Reprieve, were also big-time crowd pleasers, while “Lag Time” and “Manhole” from 2005’s Knuckle Down displayed her penchant for thought-provoking and socially striking lyrics, with the latter bearing the lines about cheating hearts: “He just doctors everything/ Chooses some unassuming finger and quietly moves his wedding ring/ Who rewrites his autobiography for any pretty girl who’ll sing/ But you can’t fool the queen, baby, cause I married the king.”
Since her 1990 self-titled debut, DiFranco has released 16 studio albums, with 2008’s Red Letter Year being the latest. She has also released a handful of live albums, and like Phish and Dave Matthews and a few others before her, has started releasing recordings of her concerts under the title “Official Bootleg Series.” With so many songs to cull from her back pages—she played 19 in her 90-minute Westcott set—and no real “Free Bird” hits that fans clamor to hear and leave musically parched if they don’t, the wonder of what you’ll hear is another element that makes her shows “only Ani.”
For her encore, she went back to her debut album and performed “Both Hands,” a melodious ballad about using ambidexterity to make a lover’s swan song grasp til the last goodbye, but like everything, all good things must pass. But Ani kept her adoring audience around a little while longer, as she doubled up on the encore and finished the night with “Overlap” from her 1994 album Out of Range. As the musicians took their final bow to a raucous and long-lasting cheer, the audience dispersed and overlapped the good vibes with more high-time spirits and libations in the adjacent bars of the Westcott area. The good times did roll.