First to take the Landmark floorboards was Syracuse native Ed Hamell a.k.a. Hamell on Trial, a recording artist on DiFranco’s Righteous Babe
label. Hamell introduced himself through a rocking sixteenth-note
guitar riff as he explored the space all across the stage. He stopped
briefly to mention two things: “I see we’re all in very celebratory
moods this evening,” and “Anyone in the seats right now, I’m playing
for you. Anyone who comes in late, fuck ’em.”
Righteous babe and friend:
Buffalo-raised folk rocker Ani DiFranco sang about political change
during her Nov. 14 Landmark Theatre performance, which was preceded by
the one-man shock rock of Hamell On Trial.
For the next half-hour Hamell offered
more hard rock and harder-they-come attitude. He mixed in original
poetry between several songs on topics like being subservient to media
(“I will baby sit your children/ I am propaganda”) and making the
Pledge of Allegiance more socially conscious (“In a nation where no one
can maintain their wealth as long as one person doesn’t have any food,
or shelter or health care.”).
Hamell feverishly strummed his acoustic
guitar while he marched around singing songs on topics like oral sex,
lying about his past to a 6-year-old son and his favorite
profanity-heavy approach to ignoring society. In what could have been a
Landmark first, Hamell triggered a call-and-response with the audience
in which the phrase “Fuck it” was exchanged back and forth four times.
It was hard not to think Hamell would
end up stealing the evening, yet the fact that he didn’t is the best
indicator of what DiFranco’s set was like. You wouldn’t have known it
from a first impression, however. DiFranco’s outfit resembled a folk
act that wouldn’t be able to match Hamell’s energy: an acoustic guitar
lead, an upright bass, vibraphone and set player who would utilize rods
and yarn mallets throughout the night.
But DiFranco’s live set left you
thinking she was anything but a mere folk artist. Her band had the
audience shouting for vibraphone solos—and how many people outside of a
high school band can even recognize vibraphones? She combined Alanis
Morissette’s acoustic yet intense musical approach with Eminem’s
in-your-face messages through mile-a-minute lyrics. The crowd sang in
unison with her throughout her 90-minute set without skipping a beat,
as DiFranco weaved in 1990s faves like “Little Plastic Castle” and
“Untouchable Face” with newer tracks off her latest release Red Letter Girl, then dipped back to her familiar well for “Joyful Girl” and “Evolve” during her encore.
DiFranco even performed a track she has
never previously recorded, with this explanation: “I wrote this on Nov.
5 when I wasn’t balling or hugging someone.” It was one more piece of
her performance honoring President-elect Barack Obama’s victory and it
contained lyrics like “President Obama, it’s a pleasure to say,” and
“The neighborhood feels like a neighborhood again, like it hasn’t in
years.” DiFranco has been around for years, too—her career spans three
decades—but anyone who left the Landmark show knew she could still take
the stage and kick some rockin’ ass as well as she did back in her