FIONA APPLE @ BOETTCHER CONCERT HALL | 10/11/13 With no opening act, Fiona Apple came on stage stomping as part of the percussion. It was like she wasn't even thinking about playing in front of a big crowd. And indeed, joined by Blake Mills, drummer Barbara Gruska and upright bassist Sebastian Steinberg, the show felt at times like you were seeing a show in a high school auditorium. The foursome performed as though they were playing a set for each other after a long series of rehearsals at home. It was minor touches like this that really enhanced the unmistakably intimate feel of this show.
Apparently the group has been playing sixteen songs each night but not always in the same order. On this night, the set opened with a new song called "Tipple," and right away, the outfit seemed like a tight but not over-practiced jazz outfit with far more emotive and raw vocals than you'd expect.
Throughout the show, Mills showed a gift for texture and tone, and dynamics and delicacy. Apple's sheer versatility and power was equally as impressive. For "Regret," she projected strong, deep vocals and drop expertly into a strained falsetto that enhanced the emotional and sonic impact of the song.
Apple's performance on "Dull Tool" was one of the strongest of the evening, with the singer pouring herself into the elemental wails of which she is capable, leaning into the rhythm. Mills, meanwhile, shined on his original compositions, songs like "Unworthy," "Curable Disease" and "Don't Tell All Our Friends About Me," which showcased his broad range of shimmering melodies and clean leads.
But where Apple displayed strength and vulnerability in a myriad of ways, Mills displayed a fragile and vulnerable quality in his music, both sonically and in the way he laid himself bare in his lyrics. The two styles of the performers, although distinctly different from one another, complemented each other so well it wasn't always easy to tell whose songs were which, even when Mills sang lead vocals.
Gruska and Steinberg left the stage before Apple and Mills performed a cabaret-style rendition of "I Know." In a way that her albums don't always make obvious, Apple is a natural blues and jazz singer that, like the blues and jazz singers of old, sings in such a way that you believe her authenticity.
Although Apple, Mills and company were clearly well rehearsed, they also seemed somewhat impromptu in the type of energy they projected from stage. The outfit proved to be very fluid and intuitive about each other's musical instincts, like they trusted in their ability when working together without having to tighten things so much to the point of it being staid and stilted.
Gruska and Steinberg came back in the second half of "Waltz (Better Than Fine)," and the band closed out strongly together. If these players can keep up the energy and level of effectiveness through a loose and unvarnished approach, maybe we can get an album at the other end of the tour that will capture the charm and emotional power of this performance.
Fiona Apple and Blake Mills Boettcher Concert Hall - Denver, CO October 11, 2013
01. Tipple 02. The First Taste 03. Every Single Night 04. Unworthy 05. Anything We Want 06. Curable Disease 07. Regret 08. It'll All Work Out 09. "I Want You To Love Me" 10. It's Only Make Believe [Conway Twitty cover] 11. "Seven" 12. Dull Tool 13. Don't Tell All Our Friends About Me 14. Left Alone 15. I Know 16. Waltz (Better Than Fine)
Personal Bias: I got into Fiona Apple in 1996, when Tidal came out, like most people did, and I recently caught up with her later work in and was pleasantly surprised with her growth as an artist, unlike many musicians that experience massive success at a young age. Random Detail: Ran into Ian Cooke going into the show. By the Way: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, Fiona Apple's 2012 album, is arguably her best.