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Weekend Review | Pop Music Review

Big Step Toward Arena-Rock Renown

July 06, 1998|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Finding shortcomings in Ani DiFranco's exceptional concert Friday at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center may be a bit like complaining of anatomical incompleteness in the Venus de Milo.

This self-professed "folksinger," known as much for her self-sufficient, cottage-industry approach to the music business as for the music she makes, stepped naturally, like a platform-booted Cinderella, into the shoes of an arena rocker.

Like all great arena rockers, she was able to fill a large space with the scale of her music and the force of her passion and personality.

DiFranco, who moved with a bouncy, rag-doll spring born of infectious enthusiasm, charmed with her giggling gift of gab and sang commandingly, hitting whatever note of playfulness, ardor or steely acerbity the moment demanded--all the while benefiting from the support of a bass-drums-keyboards trio that offered first-rate musicianship and vocal harmonies.

All in all, it was hard not to imagine this 27-year-old, barnstorm-seasoned veteran of the do-it-yourself movement stomping onward and upward in the footsteps of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Chrissie Hynde . . . --name your riveting, song-oriented, big-rock-star presence.

Still, something important was missing from DiFranco's winning equation: the ability--or maybe it's just the experience or the willingness--to harness her effusive, rhythmically probing flights of language and let them be carried by, and inevitably overshadowed by, the force of indelible tunefulness.

All the truly great rockers command a seductive power: the pull of grabbing melody. Until DiFranco learns to indulge her inner Joni equally with her rhythmic Jones, she won't be fully armed to grasp the greatness within her reach.

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