Few artists have tapped so wholly into their audience’s zeitgeist the way 25-year-old Ani DiFranco has done since the release last year of “Dilate.” Think Dylan in ’65 or Springsteen and Patti Smith in the mid- to late-’70s to find such a spirited performer with every last member of the crowd focused on what’s being said onstage.
Buffalo, N.Y.-based DiFranco exhibited a masterful command of the stage at the Mayan, the first of her two sold-out nights at the downtown venue. Her pacing, delivery, dynamics and musicianship were all top-notch. Her material is packed with a maturity that gets her further away from the uncensored anger that drove her earliest songs; musically, she draws from punk and hip-hop as well as troubadours such as Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg at their most earnest and vulnerable.
Beginning her 90-plus minutes with “Willing to Fight,” DiFranco rolled through an assortment of moods and tempos — riffing assertively on “Shameless,” warming to the audience sing-along on her delightfully brusque kiss-off, “Untouchable Face,” and even pulling out the banjo for a smooth version of Dylan’s gorgeous ballad “Most of the Time.” On “The Diner,” she showed how the precision of her imagery, in this case nose-blowing and flushing the toilet, has become her trademark; age and experience, however, have moved that exactness to a starting point for greater exploration of emotions.
Last year saw the commercial and artistic arrival of DiFranco, heralded in the mainstream press for having run her own label, Righteous Babe, as she persevered in the relatively lonely idiom of lesbian, rhythmic folk music. DiFranco, with an expanded host of concerns in her repertoire, has a lot more than longevity as an attribute. In one of her most tender moments, she sang “I’d give you my breath,” a symbol of devotion the audience returns tenfold.