By Allegra Heckman
It’s been 7 years since Fiona Apple‘s last album, with just a few rare live appearances during that time. But it became quite apparent to those of us blessed enough to be in the audience at the Greek Theatre on Friday night, that she is definitely back, in all her challenging, restless, self-revealing glory.
The Fiona Apple on stage was not the child who rose to fame in the ‘90s. It had been her birthday the day before, which makes her now 35. A woman who has come in to her own, she shared with us the complexity of all that she has become.
She came out with a bang, opening with a hard-hitting version of one of her first-person anthems, “Fast As You Can”:
I let the beast in too soon
I don’t know how to live without my hand on his throat
I fight him always and still
Oh darling its so sweet you think you know how crazy
How crazy I am
You say you don’t spook easy, you won’t go, but I know
And I pray that you will
Fast as you can, baby run free yourself of me
Fast as you can
“On the Bound” was next. Banging away at the piano, her vocal delivery moved from sultry to exploding with passion and rage within a matter of seconds.
She then went on to some of her more reliable, radio friendly hits such as “Shadowboxer” and “Paper Bag,” which you could hear echoed by the crowd throughout. However, as much as we tried to communicate to her, Fiona barely spoke to her audience. Intensely focused on her craft, she seemed indeed, possessed by it. We would expect nothing less from this Goddess of Song.
Ranging from old to new, the next 4 songs (“Anything we want,” “Get Gone,” “Periphery” and “Sleep to Dream”) conveyed recurring themes of abused trust, unrequited love, longing, and disappointment. Judging from the audience’s praise, they could relate. The amount of respect, support and admiration coming Fiona’s way was quite obvious. Notoriously shy on stage, she answered the attention with surprise and a simple thank you.
When she got quiet, the audience got quiet, as if it was imperative to hear every little nuance and allow Fiona the uninterrupted space to fully express herself. Another introspective work, and obviously inspiring to her, as she kicked up her red heels in excitement… The title track from her 2005 album Extraordinary Machine, speaking of resilience of spirit and determination of self:
I seem to you to seek a new disaster every day
You deem me due to clean my view and be at peace and lay
I mean to prove I mean to move in my own way
I’ve been getting along for long before you came in to the play
If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can’t help it the road just rolls out behind me
Be kind to me
Or treat me mean
I’ll make the most of it
I’m an extraordinary machine
As poignant now as ever, Fiona’s songs gave us a front row seat to her very personal stories. She seamlessly intertwined works from her entire catalog, showing us a continuing thread of self realization and evolution. She chose to share more from this year’s album The Idler Wheel, and the jazzy, chaotic yet melodramatic “Left Alone”:
And now I’m hard, too hard to know
I don’t cry when I’m sad anymore, no no
Tears calcify in my tummy
Fears coincide with the tow
How can I ask anyone to love me
When all I do is beg to be left alone?
Unconcerned with smoothing rough edges or hiding the scars, Fiona has a different appeal than many of her female peers. Human imperfections are fuel for the creative flame. The raw power in her delivery sent chills up my spine and brought a tear to my eye.
Backed ably by guitarist Blake Mills and bassist Sebastian Steinburg (who played a set together to open the show) as well as the colorful, moody, sometimes psychedelic soundscapes of keyboardist Zac Rae, she finished her program with “Not About Love.” Then, in one of the few times she would address the audience, she asked us to “ . . . just pretend I left the stage and you guys applauded and I am back now for my encore.” This set up the last song, a hauntingly magical version of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.”
Fusing musical elements from jazz, pop, R&B, tin pan alley, hard rock and avant garde, Fiona Apple uncompromisingly makes her art on her own terms.
Last Friday night, she dared to delve deep, bringing brand new songs and edgy rearrangements of her classics. At times she was smiling, poised and statuesque, at other times grimacing, fist-clenching and thrashing about. From the serious adult at the piano, to the childlike fairy skipping off the stage, she opened windows on her most personal and painful experiences. Fiona delivered on the artist’s commitment to keep it real. In a pop music world of pre-packaged stars, this was refreshing.
Photo By Allegra Heckman