ANI DIFRANCO: LIVING IN CLIP (1997)
1) Whatever; 2) Wherever; 3) Gravel; 4) Shy; 5) Joyful Girl; 6) Hide And Seek; 7) Napoleon; 8) I’m No Heroine; 9) Amazing Grace; 10) Anticipate; 11) Tiptoe; 12) Sorry I Am; 13) The Diner/The Slant; 14) 32 Flavors; 15) Out Of Range; 16) Untouchable Face; 17) Shameless; 18) Distracted; 19) Adam And Eve; 20) Firedoor; 21) Both Hands; 22) Out Of Habit; 23) Every State Line; 24) Not So Soft; 25) Travel Tips; 26) Wrong With Me; 27) In Or Out; 28) We’re All Gonna Blow; 29) Letter To A John; 30) Overlap.
Ani’s prolific nature easily spreads over to the live setting: she has a never-ending «Official Bootleg» series second in scope only to Pearl Jam (and third only to the Grateful Dead) — artistic commitment at its most maddening for completists. Non-completists, though, will most likely only want one sample of the lady’s stage creativity, and Living In Clip, essentially a 1990-96 career retrospective masking as a live 2-CD set, will do nicely.
Despite the unsettling length of this thing, its selection of songs, going heavy on recent material from Dilate but not really ignoring any of her other albums, is a great reminder of the fact that Ani DiFranco is, in fact, an accomplished songwriter (not to mention a fabulous picker) — one that she has an ugly knack of making us forget through massive overproduction. And since she honestly works her ass off in concert, playing with the same level of complexity that she shows in the studio, this passes off quite easily for a legit best-of compilation.
Most of the tracks feature her flexible power trio — herself, percussionist extraordinaire Andy Stochansky and Sara Lee on bass; ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Both Hands’, however, get unexpected symphonic arrangements from the Buffalo Philharmonic (which sort of happened to turn up at the right time in the right place) that work brilliantly in the case of the former, which gets a sort of Ravel-style bravado sheen, and not so brilliantly in the case of the latter, which gets a sort of Ennio Morricone-style heroic intro and outro for no particular reason.
Discussing all the subtle changes that are supposed to justify separate ownership of the album would make me look like an Ani fan, so let us skip directly to the nasty part. There is almost absolutely nothing seriously wrong with the record bar one thing: the banter. Stage banter is an art (at least when you bother to include it on live albums), and Ani is, honestly, one of the clumsiest banterers that ever ventured out under the spotlight. Simply put, her «stage persona», to me at least, sounds exaggerated and artificial. All over the place, she drops tons of giggling, silly jokes and puns, life-on-the-road anecdotes and casual blabbering with Stochansky — stuff that would sound totally okay when shared with a bunch of friends at a local barbecue, but is extremely contrived during a live show. I know, it is supposed to signify Friendship With The Audience, but these people in the audience are not her friends, and it all gives off some strange effect, as if she were saying, «hey I’m as human as all you guys out there, so I’ll laugh till you drop and tell jokes till you cry because how else are you gonna believe it?»
In short, it would have been far more effective if she’d bothered to insert her «humor» in the actual songs rather than in between them; as it is, this occasional transformation into Jerry Seinfeld’s sister only detracts from the power of her strongest numbers. Fortunately, some of the longer bits are segregated into separate tracks (‘Travel Tips’, etc.) that can be easily programmed out. With that little bit of personal alteration behind us, Living In Clip is another easy thumbs up for the lady, and an excellent, definitive full-stop to the first part of her career. Bring on the next one.