Rebirth Brass Band / Ani DiFranco, Bren Events Center, Irvine, 7/3/98
Bear with me, this is the first thing I have written in quite some time which does not have the word "oil" in it. Long story.
Rebirth Brass Band - There's this bad rap that constantly gets applied to techno music along the lines of: "It all sounds the same." Well, that's pretty much right - if you look at it on the level of the rhythmic thump-thump-thump and the occasional bloopy-bloopy-squeek-chirp of the random stuff that's overlaid atop the bass, it is pretty much the same. However, I would argue that if you have the patience of, er, a really patient person, you can discern some reasonable stylistic differences all these goofy DJ / techno artist characters. Rebirth Brass Band is in fact not techno. In fact they are not electronic at all. The similarity I'm trying to draw upon is that all of their songs *did* in fact, sound very much the same - it's just that I wasn't interested in trying to discern the subtleties of what made each song special and different. It strikes me that with 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, a tuba, and 2 drummers, you have enough of a brass arsenal to do something nifty, wacky, and different. No question but that they drove enough volume and power to cause spontaneous combustion, but the monotony threw a big bucket of cold water over the whole thing.
Ani DiFranco - As I looked around at the audience, I realized that I had little in common with the majority of folks, in that I was not a woman. However, upon closer study, I determined that I did, in fact, have quite a bit in common with a good number of that majority, in that we evidently had a common love of...how can I put this both subtlely and correctly? A friend of mine at college put it in these terms - "Richard, a guy is really nothing more than a lesbian trapped in a man's body." I am still scratching my noggin over that, but imagine what would happen if you had this big Lilith Fair machine, and you turned the Lilith knob all the way to the right. And then a little farther. You get the idea.
Having built her own record label from scratch (she's now CEO of Righteous Babe Records), and built a nationwide following from nonstop touring and her own hard work schlepping around the country, Ani DiFranco really does her own thing. She virtually blazes energy, bopping about the stage with the vigor and moves (and tattoos...) of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but driving the show from the aggressive scratching and musical twirls of her acoustic guitar instead of from hip shaking funk. Not to say people weren't dancing - but considering her fundamental sound is at some level rooted in folk, I'd have to say there was something more empowering to her music which got the booties shaking than a driving beat.
Far be it from me to try to pinpoint what that special "thing" is - I'm just a simple guy, remember. But if I were to hazard a guess, it might have something to do with the fact that she's not at all afraid to speak her mind - all of it, on any subject, at any time. Themes of strength, control, discomfort, and questioning the status quo all seem to crop up continuously, among other things. It's not music that you can let sink into the background because it contains so much power both lyrically and musically - which is why I was a little disappointed with tonight's performance. It had nothing to do with Ani, but everything to do with the venue - a gymnasium, with all of the associated horrible acoustics and dampening effects on sound. I felt cheated somehow, that not quite all the energy she was putting out quite reached us entirely, but considering how much I *did* enjoy the show, and how much people were grooving to her vibe, I guess I don't have much room to complain.
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