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Ani DiFranco at The Keswick Theatre

It’s just a few days after election day, and Ani DiFranco opens up her 10th show at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pennsylvania with “Which Side Are You On?,” the classic protest song popularized by Pete Seeger and seriously re-worked into the title track of her last album.

Ani windmills her right arm, striking strings on each bass beat like a clock, then slides the guitar up and over her body, revealing a bulging belly beneath a black empire shirt tied into a prim bow in the back. “Yes,” she says, smiling. “I am getting fatter.”

DiFranco’s pregnant. She cracks wise about overpopulation and teases that at least she’s not bleeding anymore. They’re just jokes of course, but the point rippling just beneath the surface fins through: Of course the personal is still political. But shit, this about love--and what could be more personal or political than that?

Ani plays a mixed bag of old and new songs, one song so fresh that she requests forgiveness should she mess up, because she just wrote the last lyric an hour earlier. (She doesn’t mess up.) But she doesn’t hold back on giving us the sing-along golden oldies like Untouchable Face, Fire Door and Shameless—though they’re prefaced with playful comments about how many years she’s been fulfilling the same old requests.

I imagine that for Ani, playing songs written so many years ago feels like unfurling a garland of paper dolls, eternally linked silhouettes of earlier and earlier incarnations of herself, each version faithfully clasping the hand of the one behind her, pulling her toward today: the brilliant, relaxed woman with a second husband, a five-year-old daughter, a round belly, fading tattoos and a head of loose curls, baring her teeth into the white light for a theater full of adoring gender-punks, a few holding babies with bellies full of warm milk.

Watching her scratching into the guitar like it’s a poison-ivy itch, falling backwards from the mic and jerking her body to the rhythms doled out by cohorts Todd Sickafoose on upright and Terence Higgins on drums, I’ve never been more convinced that she’s still doing it for the joy it brings.

Her fans have changed too, of course. For us, those opening notes are aural constellations that twist open the universe of our pasts, delivering glimpses of who and what we’ve left behind, but haven’t forgotten.

And then just before the encore, she sings Overlap: “I build each one of my songs out of glass / So you can see me inside of them I suppose / Or you could just leave the image of me in the background, I guess / And watch your own reflection superimposed.

We all keep moving forward, and it’s a gift, these presents she gives us so graciously.

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