How Ani DiFranco Got Her Groove Back

Folk-punk artist shows she's about much more than acoustic guitars by offering up funky live show.

MILAN, Italy -- If her fans thought Ani DiFranco came to play an entirely acoustic

concert Thursday night, they had another thing coming.

But that was about the only disappointment those attending Thursday night's

performance by the Buffalo, N.Y., songwriter could have walked away with.

DiFranco, 28, who was playing her fourth Italian date as part of a month-long European

tour to end next week in Spain, will head to Amherst, Mass., to begin a U.S. tour April 9.

But she took the opportunity to let her mother country see the new DiFranco.

A packed crowd gathered at the "Magazzini Generali," an old warehouse turned disco.

Most were surprised to hear the new live sound.

But surprise soon turned to a palpable sense of excitement.

"This concert showed that probably she's not just a folk singer anymore," Claudio

Varanini said. The 29-year-old fan had seen DiFranco perform in Italy last year, when

she showcased her 1998 album Little Plastic Castle onstage.

After running through songs from that album during the first part of the concert, including

such folk-punk tunes as the title track (RealAudio excerpt)

and "Gravel," DiFranco took the show in a new direction as she performed selections

from her latest, Up Up Up Up Up Up.

Backed by a lineup that added keyboardist Julie Wolf and drummer Daren Hann to the

mix, along with her usual bassist, Jason Mercer, DiFranco displayed the groovier side of

her music. Wolf, with whom DiFranco recorded most of the album, spiced up her

customary acoustic sounds with the funky flavors of her Hammond organ.

Moving spiritedly onstage, beating her guitar and waving her hair, DiFranco performed

new versions of old classics, including a reggae-tinged "Anticipate," from 1991's Not

So Softly. She also performed a couple of as-yet unreleased songs, including


The folk-punk rocker closed the first part of the set with a long jam that led into the funky

rhythm of "Jukebox" (RealAudio excerpt), off her last


"We've done a lot of experimenting with instrumentation and stuff along the way. And I'm

sure I'll continue," DiFranco said in January about her new musical direction. "I find for

myself -- and I think it's an inherently human thing -- that you can only do one thing for so

long. So I played solo and toured solo for a whole bunch of years."

DiFranco said then that finding other musicians to play with and getting a band together

keeps her interested. With some backing, she added, the melodic possibilities grow and

the groove opens up.

The added instrumentation opened some of her fans up to the idea that DiFranco has

more to offer than folk-rock.

"She's more mature now," Varanini said.

During the hour-and-a-half performance, which ended with the lullaby



Girl" (RealAudio excerpt), from 1996's Dilate DiFranco talked about her

newfound enthusiasm for her Italian origins to the crowd.

"This is not the first time I've come to Italy," she said. "But I see your English is better than

my Italian. Actually, I didn't feel like coming home. But then I got a stronger feeling about

my roots. Being here is better than, say, being in Austria."