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Addicted To Noise correspondent Frank Tortorici reports : GARDEN STATE, N.J. -- Put it this way: The mother of female singer-songwriters, the peerless Joni Mitchell, recently said that there is no one out there today who would make her want to forget that she'd rather be somewhere else smoking a cigarette.

She should attend an Ani DiFranco performance.

The PNC Bank Arts Center has rarely witnessed such a grand folk-rock fest as that which DiFranco helped create on Friday night. The most remarkable part of the evening was the seamless manner in which the old guard, namely Bob Dylan, mixed with the relatively new guard, namely DiFranco.

After a brief set of country rock by BR-549 that was met with lukewarm crowd response, the 26-year-old DiFranco, one of the most critically acclaimed singer-songwriters of recent years, wowed the capacity audience with her unique late-1990s take on folk-rock.

Performing her delicate, brittle songs of dysfunctional entanglement with a power that many uninitiated in the crowd were not prepared for, DiFranco took some people, it seemed, by surprise. A first-rate guitarist who uses her long fake nails as picks, she employed her elegant, expressive voice on such profanity-laced tunes as "Untouchable Face." The audience, composed of Dylan fanatics of all ages and a good sampling of DiFranco followers, greeted each sweet but sardonic "fuck you" in the lyrics with chuckles and knowing enthusiasm.

You see, DiFranco doesn't curse for shock sake. She means it.

She strummed and boot-stomped her way, with the help of bassist Jason Mercer and drummer Andy Stochansky, through a well-chosen sampling of her entire oeuvre, which pleased fans and, no doubt, impressed many of the uninitiated. Particularly compelling was "Letter to a John" from her 1994 album Out of Range, in which DiFranco paints a vivid portrait of the world's oldest profession in her inimitable style. The crowd responded enthusiastically to her every turn of a phrase.

It was as if she had come to inspire the audience for what was still to come. Still, those DiFranco uninitiated were quite aware of the next performer's catalogue.

Introduced simply and understatedly as "Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan," the father of folk-rock drew crowd response one would expect of the latest teen idols. Despite an obviously scratchy voice (even scratchier than usual), Jakob's dad, as Wallflowers' fans may know him, chose more well-known compositions to perform than he has in recent years and delivered them with a renewed interest and vigor. He didn't preview anything from his upcoming, Daniel Lanois-produced album, Time Out of Mind (Sept. 30).

"Tangled Up In Blue" and "Silvio" were early sing-alongs benefitting from a tight band led by guitarist Larry Campbell. Though his vocals marred "Lay Lady Lay" and "Mr. Tambourine Man," the musical arrangements were fresh and most welcome -- and Dylan's strong guitar was at the forefront.

Two highlights, in particular, were the seminal Blonde On Blonde, rockers "Absolutely Sweet Marie" and "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat." He even shocked the crowd with the rarely-played masterpiece "Blind Willie McTell." It was vintage Dylan with a modern-day edge.

It seems he's fully recovered from the potentially life-threatening heart ailment that sidelined him two months ago. Dylan did not once mention his bout with histoplasmosis.

Instead, the 56-year-old held the vociferous, salivating crowd in his hand through a strong trio of encores, an unforgettable combination of "Like A Rolling Stone," "My Back Pages" and "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" (aka "Everybody Must Get Stoned.")

Maybe the clearest sign of Dylan's resurgence came during this encore set, when three young fans rushed the stage in separate incidents.

Though standing somewhat uncertainly at points during the performance, Dylan greeted the fans' intrusions with confident amusement and continued rocking. He had songs to play and words to say.

The legend in his own time had hit a groove. And there was no stopping him.


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