Any Fiona Apple concert is a study in contradiction. The audience last night at the Paramount Theatre show was privy to a vast frontier of human emotion, Apple braiding herself in and out of binary worlds, slipping from robust woman in command of a top-shelf band, to a frightened child, unsure of her place on the stage.
From comforting mother to jealous girlfriend, from virtuoso musician to raw animal, Apple grinded her throat while hopping in and out of rhythm. None of this seemed to be incidental. Like her career, Apple appears to never settle on a single path or persona. The only constant is her desire to open up a vein in front of the world, bluntly stating: Here it is, all the power and fear, the desire and disgust. And the crowd loved her for it, most likely wishing they had the courage to be so vulnerable.
After telling the audience they had her permission to love her or hate her, to cry or scream, or even leave if they felt like it (sounding quite similar to the opening of a workshop on sex positivity), a strobe of lights flashed and the band exploded into "Fast As You Can." A set of floor fans blasted into Apples face, billowing a large purple scarf around her upper half, giving her an Ursula the Sea Witch look as she belted "I don't know how to live/ without my hand on his throat/ . . . O darling/ it's so sweet: you think you know how crazy, how crazy I am."
The first four tracks of the night were a 90s bound time machine, delivering crowd-pleasing hits like "On the Bound," "Shadowboxer" and "Paperbag," the decade and a half songs contrasted by her modern style of black jeggings and thin gold belt around a sleeveless black top, though it took at least twenty minutes before we got a good look at the outfit, seeing as she held the guarded posture of a frightened kindergartner during these older songs. When "Anything We Want" came around, the manically percussive ballad from her new album -- the lengthy title of which would throw this sentence off kilter -- her arms fell behind her back, and she swayed with a confidence and charm to contrast her previous fragility.
Whether it was a blinding rager or a tender ballad, the audience roared their praise at Fiona Apple, almost assaulting her with it, like she was the Pope or Morrissey. From delicately stylish women to burly men with voices like lumberjacks shouting into a canyon, the cries of "I LOVE YOU FIONAAAAA!" awkwardly punctuated the theater approximately every fifteen seconds.
After the band drifted into a grimy, humid jam session following "Sleep to Dream," -- with Apple going into a druggy, shamanic dance, like an Amazonian ballerina -- gears were once again dramatically shifted into the music box tinkling of "Extraordinary Machine." The adorable ballad -- covered in the fingerprints of former producer Jon Brion -- marked the dramatic contrariety between that former album (with all its cutesy charm), and this new one (with its blood and bones primacy), not to mention it all proved that Apple's pipes are still very much intact when she hit the nimble falsetto for the song's bridge.
Earlier in the night, half the audience was treated to an arresting solo performance by Blake Mills -- while the other half yakked loudly to each other during his pin-drop guitar instrumentals and Jeff Buckley-style serenades. Mills's work would not be done after his own performance, as he is performing double-duty on this tour as a member of Apple's backing band. But before leaving the stage, he treated the audience to a heartbreaking rendition of the tender surf-rock tune, "Sleepwalk."
"This is not about love!" Apple belted out later in the evening, neck muscles straining and muscular arms flexed, "BECAUSE I AM NOT IN LOVE!" Her manically controlled delivery of the "Extraordinary Machine" song roused the audience into a standing ovation, even though we were several songs away from the end of the night. "This is normally the part of the night where we leave the stage," Apple said, referring to the sacred -- yet mostly pretentious -- live music ritual of the encore, "but I don't like doing that. So I'm just going to stay on the stage."
Like when Radiohead plays "Creep" today, when Apple's band rolled out the sultry piano of "Criminal," the audience dutifully applauded, yet with no more fervor than any other tune of the evening. Which is very telling, considering that many cynics have blindly attempted to encapsulate her inside that mid-nineties hit, giving her a period-piece designation right next to Jewel and Alanis Morissette. Despite Apple preferring a career based on producing albums whenever she feels like it (which has lately been around every seven years), last night's performance proved that her musical machinery has gathered no rust, and that she can still bleed like the rest of them.
By the Way: At one point Fiona Apple briefly pounded on a floor tom drum which sat next to her on the stage, keeping time with the band during a rocking section of the song "Chaperone." Am I overstating things, or was this a clear and direct nod to Lykke Li?
Personal Bias: When you're two weeks into a heavy breakup, and your ex is sitting a handful of rows behind you during a Fiona Apple concert, all those songs about heartache, regret, revenge and self-loathing take on a spooky relevance.
Random Detail: Blake Mills sports a haircut identical to a Romeo & Juliet-era DiCaprio
1. Fast As You Can
2. On the Bound
4. Paper Bag
5. Anything We Want
6. Get Gone
7. Sleep to Dream
8. Extraordinary Machine
10. Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)
12. I Know
13. Every Single Night
16. Not About Love
17. It's Only Make Believe
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