Bounding onto the Wiltern stage, playing the opening notes of “Buildings and Bridges,” Ani DiFranco suddenly stopped. “Oh God,” she said to the sellout crowd after she forgot the opening lyrics. With a broad smile on her face she warned, “I guess you know what you’re in for.” That’s just what makes DiFranco so winning: her impish, non-airbrushed honesty and humor. “I may get pissed off sometimes,” she sings, but “in the end I just let it go,” concluding that “what doesn’t bend, breaks.”
Touring in support of the just-released “Knuckle Down” (on her own Righteous Babe Records), DiFranco is a mellower presence onstage than she once was. It’s not so much that anything’s changed — her guitar playing is still percussive, her singing retains its conversational rhythms, the songs their chunky construction. But the new songs feel more approachable, the surge of lyrics slowed down, the melodies more pliable, and Todd Sickafoose’s standup bass added a jazzy slur to the music. “Sunday Morning” finds her in bed with her lover, spending a lazy weekend, the music languorous and tousled. “Studying Stones” is an almost mournful look back at her family that forces her to admit “There’s never been an endeavor so strange/as trying to slow the blood in my veins.”
She’s also less voluble onstage than in the past, but her emotional connection with her fans is as intense as ever. Even a decade and a half (and 17 albums) after her debut, she remains an original.
DiFranco plays the Avalon in Los Angeles Tuesday.