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Case Number 05653: Small Claims Court

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Ani DiFranco: Trust

Righteous Babe Records // 2004 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // November 23rd, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Elizabeth Skipper trusts singer-activist Ani DiFranco. She does not, however, trust, Franco-American, because she refuses to believe that Spaghetti-Os are authentic Italian food.

The Charge

Yes, it's part of a pair
There on the bow of Noah's Ark
The most prestigious couple just kickin' back parked
Against a perfectly blue sky
On a morning beatific
In its Indian summer breeze
On the day that America
Fell to its knees
After strutting around for a century
Without saying thank you
Or please

The Case

From the very first Ani DiFranco song I ever heard, I was hooked. It wasn't the music that got to me, though. In fact, her jarring guitar and almost off-key voice nearly made me turn it off. But then I heard her lyrics. And now I am like one of Pavlov's dogs—just a grating note or two makes me yearn for what I know is coming. You see, since that first listen, there has never been an event in my life that Ani hasn't already written about. From political rage to heartache to political rage to existential ennui to—did I mention political rage?—her smart and insightful lyrics always give me the words I can never seem to find on my own.

You can keep the Pentagon
Keep the propaganda
Keep each and every TV
That's been trying to convince me
To participate
In some prep school punk's plan to perpetuate retribution
Perpetuate retribution
Even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
Is still hanging in the air

Ani has always been better live than in the studio. Maybe it's just because the stories and jokes she tells make her more accessible, less of an idol and more of a friend, but I think it's more than that. I think her passion can only really be captured in front of an audience. I heard proof of this on her first live album, Living in Clip, and again on her second, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter, and now I've seen the proof on Trust (which was filmed on May 11 and 12 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC). With the exception of the four new songs, I've heard every song on one studio album or another. But I have never heard them like this. Of course, the surround sound helps (I'll get to that later), but it's more than that. There is an energy to these versions, an excitement that's missing from the originals.

Trust also offers a new twist on the live format by giving us behind-the-scenes access to rehearsals. Almost every song is presented as a melding of the rehearsal version and the live version from the show at the 9:30 Club. What starts out an acoustic, usually solo song seamlessly transforms into its full onstage self. It's an interesting technique, but, as I said, Ani is always better with an audience, so that's how I'd prefer to see her.

'Cause take away our PlayStations
And we are a third-world nation
Under the thumb of some blue-blood royal son
Who stole the Oval Office and that phony election
I mean it don't take a weatherman
To look around and see the weather
Jeb said he'd deliver Florida, folks
And boy did he ever

Included on Trust are 21 songs and spoken-word pieces (which, if you know Ani, you know aren't really much different from songs), including four previously unreleased tracks (marked with asterisks):
• Educated Guess
• Origami
• Modulation*
• Coming Up
• Grave
• Tip Toe
• Phase
• Platform
• Swim
• God's Country
• Anticipate
• You Each Time
• Swan Dive
• Knuckledown*
• Angry Anymore
• Manhole*
• Little Plastic Castle
• Grand Canyon
• Evolve
• Shameless
• Callous*

As I intimated above, Trust is more than just a film of a concert; it's a documentary, and a fairly artistic one at that. Interspersed with the concert and rehearsal footage is an exploration of the political nature of Ani's concerts, various rough animations that serve as backgrounds for some of the songs, and a discussion of and brief speech by Democratic primary candidate Dennis Kucinich. Since I love to hear Ani live but there isn't really much to hold my attention while watching her live, I welcomed the variety. The transitions between the different shots and different segments were smooth and unobtrusive, so they only added to my enjoyment of the film.

And what enjoyment it was! Live Ani is good, but live Ani in surround sound is glorious. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is a nice mix, though a little heavy on the surrounds during some of the louder songs. Those same surrounds are used proficiently for audience noise and backup instruments, though, so I will forgive the slight transgression. Live music in surround sound is an experience that makes you thank the gods you live in this age of technological wonders, and Trust is no exception. It will be a disappointment to return to my plain CDs.

The video added to my enjoyment as well. At least parts of it did. Part of the "artistic" of this artistic documentary I've been touting is a use of extremely grainy and dirt-ridden video for about half of the shots. It's obviously a purposeful technique, as the remaining shots are crystal clear and error-free, but that just makes it all the more annoying. Why ruin perfectly good video in the name of variety or art? Give me different camera angles and play with the lighting and even the colors if you must, but leave the integrity alone.

Now that I've moved from praise to criticism, I guess I'll keep going and complain about the absolute lack of extras. It's a music DVD, so Trust gets a little leeway, but it's still a DVD, which means it ought to have something. I'd prefer a commentary track or footage of old appearances on talk shows or something like Sessions at West 54th, but even a discography or lyrics for the songs included would show a good-faith effort. Here we get nothing, and I've reduced my overall score because of it.

And we hold these truths to be self-evident—
Number One: George W. Bush is not President
Number Two: America is not a true democracy
Number Three: The media is not fooling me

If you're an Ani fan, you will not be disappointed by Trust with its superb sound and attention-grabbing use of animation and camera angles. If you've never heard Ani's music before, this DVD is the perfect place to start. Not only will you hear a career-spanning range of songs, but you will also get a little insight into the artist's personality and politics, which are inextricably intertwined with her music.

Trust is found not guilty of all charges of intent to overthrow the government and is free to go. But we'll be watching you.

Case adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: Righteous Babe Records
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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