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Music & Dance | POP MUSIC REVIEW

These two can hold their own, thank you

October 31, 2003|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

Ani DiFranco enjoys your company, but she still doesn't need any help. The singer-songwriter has worked with bands big and small and thrived while doing so. But at the Long Beach Terrace Theatre on Wednesday, she spent the evening alone onstage, filling the room with her acoustic guitar, typically breathless storytelling and sharp political wailing.

DiFranco was a dancing, bobbing, weaving presence behind the microphone, dreadlocks hanging past her shoulders, and a playful host between songs. Her 75-minute set touched on much of her energetic career, including her thoughtful new album, "Evolve." Her political passions still had her squeezing big words into folk songs with more finesse than most. Elsewhere she was more personal, romantic, teasing, angry. In the self-aware "Second Intermission," she demonstrated not only her debt to the confessional likes of Janis Ian, but also her growing commitment to exploring beyond the reaches of punked-up folk.

That's still a place where support act Hamell on Trial resides. On Wednesday, the singer-songwriter declared, "I'm as bad as Nine Inch Nails except I don't need machinery.... I'm like the Beastie Boys except I'm just one!" He was a shaved-headed bulldog in faded black, a punk-rock troubadour in the tradition of Billy Bragg and early DiFranco herself. The words were often angry, bitter, sneering, outraged, but coated with humor.

Reflective protest songs from his newest album, "Tough Love" (released on DiFranco's Righteous Babe label), were rich with driving talking blues, sometimes delivered casually while rocking up his acoustic guitar. Hamell is another singer in need of no help at all.

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