Recap: Ani DiFranco w/ The Righteous Babes Revue 11/11/2022 at Troy Music Hall -By: Niki Kaos

Written by on November 14, 2022

Ani DiFranco w/ The Righteous Babes Revue: Gracie and Rachel, Holly Miranda  & Jocelyn Mackenzie 11/11/2022 at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall

In a music hall, in a city… Ani DiFranco and her Righteous Babe Review captivated a packed house on a rainy Friday night in Troy. The weather didn’t deter her many fans, and the historic Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was filled with a friendly, relaxed audience. As the audience was ushered to their seats, the anticipation built in the room for what we all expected would be an unforgettable show. 

The opening act was a supergroup of different artists signed to Ani’s label who collaborated to create the Righteous Babe Review especially for this tour. Comprised of solo artists Jocelyn Mackenzie and Holly Miranda, as well as duo Gracie & Rachel, the quartet created new arrangements for their songs. Soaring four-part harmonies filled the hall while keyboards, violin, guitar, various sample pads and a floor tom created a folk tribal synth pop sonic dream.

Jocelyn kicked things off with her song “Better” and her earthy, soulful voice had the audience’s attention right away. With a round-robin style, the next song was performed by Holly, who showed hints of Mazzy Star with a soft, ethereal voice and textured, jangly electric guitar sound. Next, Gracie & Rachel’s synth and violin infused pop song was catchy and danceable. A roar of applause followed each!

The comradery and unique talent created a sense of sisterhood across the stage as each performer brought their individual sounds to develop the set. Going through the round two more times, the women shared the story of how the group came together, and at one point quipped, “We’re in an arranged marriage, but we’re happy about it!” The audience, well entertained by the opening act, barely noticed the time flying by. Soon lights were up for intermission and for the stage to be reset for Ani. 

For those unfamiliar with Ani’s history as an independent artist, it is worth noting her unusual rise to success. Picking up guitar at age 9, Ani developed her now iconic D.I.Y. indie-folk vibe, creating her own record label, Righteous Babe Records, by age 20. Ani’s charismatic, technically dazzling live shows and relentless touring quickly built a devoted fan base over the decades. As her sound has grown, her songwriting, recordings, and performances have evolved to an exploration of punk, hip hop and jazz in complement to her folk roots. 

Ani is currently touring as a trio with longtime collaborator bassist Todd Sickafoose and a drummer new to the crew as part of this tour, Jharis Yokley. The rhythm section comes together effortlessly, as if they had been playing together for years. Jharis’ drumming sizzled with perfect precision and subtle dynamics that integrated flawlessly with Ani’s trademark percussive guitar style. Todd’s upright bass lines showed his experience with Ani’s catalog as a melodic complement to her complex and tasty chord arrangements and rhythmic stylings. 

They open the set with two songs from her more recently released albums, and “Still My Heart” has the audience drawn in from the first note. She then teases that before she plays some of her newest material, she’s going to “butter us up” with a popular classic, launching into a hauntingly beautiful “Dilate”. The crowd eats it up!

Tiny in stature, Ani’s heart, soul, and pure talent make her a fierce but gentle giant on stage. Her intimate conversation style between songs feels like she is speaking to you over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. An anecdote about a MIT podcast with a particle physicist brings a splash of humor, and Ani’s joyful girl demeanor makes it easy to see why her career has such staying power. She shares that after reading See No Stranger by her friend Valarie Kaur, she felt a sense of being recharged in her mission of positivity. She said “Yes, that’s it. That’s what I’m trying to do!” Ani promises we’ll hear the song “Revolutionary Love ” inspired by that book later in the set, which is from her 2021 album release by the same title.

Those who have followed Ani from her solo folk-guitar beginnings to present times have been witness to an ever evolving and exploratory career. One of her most brilliant feats is while experimenting with jazz, funk and hip-hop styles, her compositions are always unmistakably her own. They draw the listener in with layered melodic themes and rhythms in a unique but listenable way. Then there’s the lyrics. In my opinion, few songwriters match Ani’s prolific, poetic and en pointe writing style. The people inspired to sing along occasionally throughout the show echo this feeling and the room vibrates with a shared history of beloved songs. Normally, I would find that annoying, but in this setting it is exactly perfect.  

Ani did not shy away from bringing us those newest songs, and her set overall was well balanced with a selection from across her career. Songs “The Atom” and “Been Here All The Time” were middle of the set favorites for the crowd, hanging on every note from the well-seasoned trio. Ani’s newest song, yet to be released, showed that Ani’s still having fun exploring the jazzier side of writing. A promising sign of what’s to come on the next album. 

Taking advantage of the Troy Music Hall’s historically renowned acoustics, toward the end of the show a microphone was set up at the front center of the stage, and Ani, Todd and Jharis crowded around to experiment how it would sound with just their acoustic instruments and the one small mic. With Jharis on cajon and Todds’s upright bass thumping, Ani’s guitar and voice soared over it all. It was a unique experience that only could have been created in such a special hall, and it thrilled the audience. 

As the set was concluding, we saw the Righteous Babes join the stage in various collaborations with Ani’s trio. It was so relaxed and enjoyable to see how effortlessly the musicians moved between the stations on stage, and throughout the night the stage crew had everything running like clockwork. With the full crew on stage for a rousing “Revolutionary Love” the room was filled with that positive energy spoken of earlier. Ani ends the set with “Gravel” and some members of the audience could no longer contain themselves. Soon there was a dance party at the front of the stage. 

At the end of the last song the whole room erupted into applause and a standing ovation. The attendees were grateful to be part of the concert experience. One filled with love for music and for humanity, in that deftly honest way Ani does so well. We all felt certain we would get a least one encore, and the audience would not give up the clapping until we saw Ani come back on stage for another two numbers, Guthrie’s “All You Fascists ‘Bout To Lose” and one of my personal favorites, “32 Flavors”, which I had really been hoping for! The whole room was on their feet through the end.

The audience got a wink from the drummer on their way off stage and were then spurred on with more applause and then foot stomping in hopes for a second encore. Ani did not disappoint! Back out again, the trio launched into “Little Plastic Castles” and the crowd went wild! For much of the song the entire hall sang in unison. Like a rebel angel folk punk super choir praising the beauty of our individuality but sharing this collective moment together! It was truly epic!

At the end of the show, you could see the glow on the faces of happy audience members as we shuffled out of the hall and on to our next destinations. I would highly recommend trying to catch Ani in concert in the future if you have the chance. She’s at the top of her game and surrounded by extraordinary musicians. Her live shows are dynamic and well worth the trip!


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