Ani DiFranco / Jesca Hoop – McDonald Theatre, Eugene, OR
Words by Jesse Van Horn
Jesca Hoop stands alone, barefoot, on a dimly-lit stage. At various points I catch glimpses of Stop Making Sense and In the Court of the Crimson King, but she sounds nothing like either of them. This is closer to Joanna Newsom than King Crimson, but there is something ethereal and celestial about this set that leaves me feeling haunted and enchanted. Her vocal range and precision reminds me of Mason Jennings, but again, she does not sound like Mason Jennings. Jesca Hoop sounds like a supernova. A dying star. She sounds like the psychic wound in the wake of a lover’s absence. The physical and emotional scar left upon the world as a testament to your existence. To our collective existence.
She only plays six songs, and I feel cheated. For a few moments the people in this room became something bigger than the sum of our parts. We became a part of the supernova.
I know very little about Ani DiFranco. I know she is an activist. I picture her with dreadlocks and a nose ring. But I could not tell you a single song she sings. When she takes the stage, people erupt. And in that sudden burst of enthusiasm I feel welcome. It is immediately clear that this is a show that means a lot of things to a lot of people. People dance in the aisles. Couples quietly embrace. Women hug their daughters. I am about to experience something powerful.
I am surprised by so much about this show – how heavy a sound can come from an acoustic guitar, a double bass, and a drum kit, at her use of effects pedals and tenor guitars, by the depth and variety of musical styles incorporated into her sound. But mostly I am surprised by how much fun I am having. She’s playful on stage. She seems kind and funny. She drinks tea from a Muhammad Ali mug. She no longer has dreads, and I’m too far away to tell, but I don’t see a nose ring.
She is political, and sings scathing, poetic condemnations of bigotry, the patriarchy, and religion. But all of her songs are so relevant that I can’t tell which songs are new and which were written decades ago. It strikes me how rare it is to have the opportunity to see someone perform who has been doing it for 30 years. And I realize that this is part of what makes this show great: she has been doing this for over thirty years. Clearly she has talent, but it is her passion that intoxicates me. Halfway through the set she brings her daughter on stage to sing with her and I can’t imagine a more satisfying thing for a musician to get to do. Her enjoyment is infectious and endearing. I am transfixed. During the encore, halfway through the last song of the night, she forgets her own words and leans into the crowd for support. She tilts her ear toward her shouting fans, nods her head, and returns to the mic.
There is no pretense here. She sings because she cares, because she believes her voice matters, and because she needs to. But seeing her on stage it is clear that this is exactly where she wants to be. “This is me,” she sings, “sincerely, doing the best that I can.”