Happy Ani is just as great as unhappy Ani

To put it plainly: the Ani DiFranco show at the Merrill Auditorium last night was awesome.

From the moment she opened her set with "Both Hands" -- "let's begin at the beginning, right?" she asked the audience -- through new political rants and happy songs, and until an encore of "Little Plastic Castle" and "Overlap" (for which she was joined by gay heartthrob Melissa Ferrick), Ani had the crowd on its feet. If there was any doubt that her fans would begrudge Ani her newfound domestic happiness, it was assuaged last night.

And anyway, she's certainly not all hearts and rainbows now that she's a mom. Sure, a couple of her new songs were about healthy relationships and learning to love life, but she's still got that familiar growling rant in her. Several numbers last night -- including one spoken word piece -- took our government and political leaders to task. "What the fuck happened to the separation of church and state?" she mused.

The evening was filled with DiFranco's characteristic chatter with the audience, self-deprecating, giggly, and smart all at once. She looked great, all taut and tiny (and her hot-as-hell drummer, Allison Miller, ain't bad either). Most of all, she was smiling, a lot. Even playing "Shameless," she looked more empowered than angry, rocking around the stage and bouncing her guitar on her leg. The audience was smiling a lot too. And when she talked about Petah, her year-old baby and the source of much of her current joy, they cheered.

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