Bone-thin and wiry, Fiona Apple has learned to let out the beast inside her when she performs. Tapping into a primal yelp that is less apparent on her records, Apple spent much of her show last night in Chicago going from soft whispers to strong vibrato to shouting screams. And for a 34-year-old recluse, you’d be surprised of the amount of power that she can exude on the stage – when she isn’t sitting down right in the middle of it, mind you.
Having only four albums under her belt in the span of sixteen years, it seems that paper bags biodegrade faster than Apple puts out new material. But what she does release is always worth the wait. She’s not of the same fabric as a Gaga or Rihanna, churning out manufactured hits from a pop factory. Each of Apple’s albums is crafted from inner-turmoil, love, despair, awareness of self-destruction and an acceptance of who she is, which is to say an extraordinary machine.
This was the fourth time I’ve seen Apple and she’s clearly changed as a live performer. From the first two tours, she was more concerned about singing and explaining herself. The last two have become more frenetic, with nearly no speaking and a lot of lurking in the background when not vocalizing.
What seems odd to me is that I wonder what it must be like for her to put together a set list, knowing that she has a limited back catalog to build from and knowing how young she was when having written songs like “Criminal,” which must seem somewhat irrelevant but yet the biggest hit of her career.
The show was a packed 90 minutes with a number of fan favorites, including one of my own, the haunting and bitter “Get Gone.” Only four songs from the new album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, made an appearance, with probably the most captivating being “Werewolf” and “Daredevil,” a song that I’ve fallen in love with completely.
Check out the album version of “Daredevil” –
I also wonder if this entire tour is a bit forced, knowing that the recent album is probably old news to her – it sat on a shelf by Apple’s own choosing to wait out label hierarchical changes. Could it be that she’s emotionally moved on, too?
Although Apple seems to have become more comfortable with the actual performing, but not of the responsibility to stand upon a stage and be looked upon when not singing. Several times she gyrated and undulated to the band’s outro jams, slowly collapsing onto the floor, cross-legged like a six-year-old.
My only issue with her as a live performer is that she screams to the point of losing all the intricate melodies that make her recorded music so rich and worth repeated listening. I find it also odd that she doesn’t really reinterpret or mix up the songs that much and keeps a ‘rock’ vibe to the show, when it’s apparent through performances of “Extraordinary Machine” or the Conway Twitty cover “It’s Only Make Believe,” her voice is best when not forced and when couched in an acoustic arrangement.
If ever a person could be the 21st century reincarnation of tin pan alley music, it would be Apple. And what’s unfortunate is that there were not more covers or songs performed in this style.
As the show unfolded, you got the sense that Apple really is made for the creation of music and not necessarily the performing. She drifted around the stage like a girl lost, seeming disconnected from the audience and lost within the music and herself. Perhaps it’s my own selfish desire to want more dialogue from her or at least an attempt to connect with an audience that is known for being die-hard and loyal as the day is long.
But maybe it’s the aloofness we find so captivating and what keeps us coming back for more. The air of mystery is working for Apple in ways that other pop contemporary musicians have abandoned for total transparency on Twitter, Instagram or their own 3D films.
With Apple, it’s always been about connecting with the music. Maybe she’s right not to dilute the power of her work and she’s keeping it (and the rest of her) as something sacred. And as she says herself, she’s free to do anything she wants.
I recommend you purchase The Idler Wheel today. And if you are new to Apple, I’d also start with When the Pawn.
*Edit: I forgot to mention that as the house lights went down for the first song in the show, a woman had a seizure right in front of my friend and I and it was utterly terrifying and a mess.