Wednesday, July 25
It's been 15 years since a fresh-faced, 20-year-old Fiona Apple went onstage at>"/>
It's been 15 years since a fresh-faced, 20-year-old Fiona Apple went onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards and declared "This world is bullshit," cementing her status as the music world's most iconic Sullen Girl. Last night at the Paramount, Apple, who is now 34 and touring in support of her fourth album, The Idler Wheel..., took to the stage much more graciously; she wore a long white skirt and a pink tank top and waved and smiled at the crowd. Apple is an under-the-radar kind of girl, and her appearance is startlingly different from the last time, seven years ago, she released an album and toured--she's become a much more sinewy figure, with drawn cheekbones and bony shoulders. Elusive artists are always bound to get the most rapt audiences; last night's was packed and eager. (Overeager, actually--Apple purposely inserts meaningful pauses and false endings in her songs, the way a writer places line breaks in a poem, and most of those pauses and downbeats were ruined by fans screaming "We love you, Fiona!" over the silence (If you love her so much, then why do you keep interrupting her songs?)).
The last time I saw Fiona Apple, at the Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2006 following the release of Extraordinary Machine, she interrupted one of her own songs, breaking it off to go hide, crouching behind her piano, where she remained for the next few numbers. Apple is a highly unpredictable performer; it's part of what delights her fans so much. She may have matured over the course of four albums, but her tempestuous spirit still rages on, and it all gets manifested in her performances. She gave emphasis to every single song she performed, but here are my picks for last night's most memorable numbers:
1. "Fast As You Can": When The Pawn...'s first single is an ideal set opener, because it contains one of Apple's most declarative lines--"Oh darling, it's so sweet, you think you know how crazy/How crazy I am." If on record Apple holds a bit back, creating a simmering undertone of resentment, live, she lets everything scratch and howl its way out. Last night she ad-libbed into the song's ending--"Why don't you go?/I'm trying to help you out," she spat, before going to the piano and playing out the song's ending bars.
2. "Paper Bag": Apple changed tonal gears a few songs later; she appeared almost shy, clasping her hands behind her back, and almost shrugging off the words as she sang--"Hunger hurts, but starving works." Her easing off lent beautifully to the song's smooth rhythm.
3. "Sleep To Dream": For the frenetic, anthemic opener to Tidal, Apple belted out the lyrics and then broke into a maniacal little jig, then fell to her knees on the floor, like the percussive tension in the song was too much for her to bear.
4. "Daredevil": For this new Idler Wheel number, Apple's voice took on a stentorian quality--"Look at, look at, look at, look at me!/I'm all the fishes in the sea," she demanded, jerking her torso around and ending the song taking up a pair of mallets and banging on some drums like a petulant and curious child.
Read on to see Apple's full setlist
5. "Every Single Night": I've been envisioning the steely chorus line from The Idler Wheel...'s first single--"Every single night's a fight with my brain"--performed with a couple of in-unison backup singers, but Apple carried it off, forcefully, alone. The way she snaps the word "brain" is like a dog biting your finger.
6. "Not About Love": One of the few songs that she performed behind the piano, Apple managed this song's sudden twists brilliantly--pounding the keys and screaming "This is not about love/'Cause I am not in love"; dropping down to sigh "I miss that stupid ache"; letting her fingers and words fly through the impossibly fast and wordy verses.
7. "It's Only Make Believe": Apple's closing number was her most vulnerable--and it wasn't her own song but a Conway Twitty cover. Backed by a standup bass and a swooning electric guitar, Apple sang Twitty's lyrics, which are much more tamped down than anything she would ever write--"My one and only prayer/Is that someday you'll care"--but it was a rare and remarkable thing to see her appear so wistfully exposed. It was also her prettiest vocal performance of the night.
Fast As You Can
On The Bound
Anything We Want
Sleep To Dream
Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song)
Every Single Night
Not About Love
It's Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)