After opener Blake Mills (the guitarist for Apple’s band, who had a decent if drowsy catalog of Chris Isaak-like, melancholy almost-country songs), Apple kicked off the show with When the Pawn’s “Fast As You Can,” a frenzied, drum-driven opener that led several people throughout the auditorium to leap to their feet and dance however it is that you can dance to Fiona Apple. Apple herself seemed nervous, fidgeting behind the microphone stand, but it didn’t impede her vocals. Next up was “On the Bound,” which saw Apple at the piano, in parts beating at the piano keys with flat hands, still managing to elicit beautiful sounds.
Her times at the piano during the night were understated and supremely casual—there were no moments of “SEE, I CAN PLAY THE PIANO REALLY WELL!” showboating. Rather, the piano seemed to respond to Apple’s offhand proddings, poundings and pokings as a horse does to its rider.
She stayed at the piano for “Shadowboxer,” naturally, but returned to the mic stand for “Paper Bag.” They’re both emotional, painful songs about loved hoped for, love had, and love lost, and Apple sang as if she were truly in the middle of all these emotions, though she’d put them down on paper 13-plus years ago.
Apple exemplified the phrase “Dance like no one’s watching,” twisting and turning awkwardly, hopping around the stage and occasionally, during instrumental portions, sitting on the floor out of sight of most the audience. It’s weird, yes, but I’d rather see this weird Fiona Apple—who seems to forget the crowd is there, whose focus is entirely on the music and the lyrics and the emotions behind them—than a Fiona Apple with a polished stage routine, trotting out her old songs “for the fans” and filling them with false, unfelt emotions.
Just four songs from her new album, The Idler Wheel, made an appearance. Tonally, they’re quite different from her earlier work, the emotions not quite as raw, with a little more self-awareness and sense of irony. Seeing them performed live, though, gave them more feeling. “Every Single Night” was a standout, as well as “Daredevil,” which runs the gamut of emotions from angry demands—“Look at look at look at me/ I’m all the fishes in the sea” to whispered pleadings—“Maybe you'll let me look out for you/ Protect what I found in you/ And never let it starve.” On the album, the piano provides the harmony; live, it was the bass. Apple finished that song by doing her own percussion, beating on the top of the piano with a sense of wonder, despite this likely having been carried out dozens of times in rehearsals and in other cities.
The highlight in the latter half of her set was “I Know,” a quiet song that’s the final track on When the Pawn. It’s a song I’ve never much cared for, feeling that it’s a little too snoozy, a pre-Norah Jones Norah Jones song. But Apple killed it live. It was raw and heartbreaking and real, as if the subject of the song were sitting in the audience.* The lighting during this song was unreal—white beams of lights that looked like giant tassels or curtains, backlit by a pink light that gave the stage a noir, smoky feel. It seemed as though the audience held its collective breath during this song—you could have heard a pin drop during the silence between Apple’s final lyrics and the haunting instrumental end to the song.
Speaking of the crowd, it was great—especially compared to Apple’s recent show in Minneapolis, where people apparently jeered. My friend Nicole and I were commenting that we were likely some of the youngest in the crowd, and it was interesting to look around and see all of these classy, put-together people—yes, mostly women—and know that, during some period in their life, they’ve likely lain in their bedrooms with the lights off and listened to Tidal or When the Pawn, awed by the fact that someone out there was feeling the same anger, sadness, heartbreak and isolation, and managing to express those painful, confusing feelings so deftly.
Apple then went into “Criminal,” of course, followed by “Carrion,” which was imbued with a funky jazz mood, almost an upbeat-Muzak sound. It’s a song that started out soft and dreamy but slowly built and became more and more powerful, with Apple practically shouting into the mic.
“Not About Love” was the final song of Apple’s, and one of only three songs from her 2005 album Extraordinary Machine she played during the evening. Apple was back at the piano for this rollicking number, which reminded me what a great album Extraordinary Machine really is—all the songs are solid, but for whatever reason I don’t return to it as often as I do Tidal or When the Pawn—maybe I was too well-adjusted by the time it came out.
After “Not About Love,” Apple mumbled something about not coming back for an encore because they’re stupid, so this next song is the encore, really. It was really the only time she addressed the crowd—there was no “Hello, Salt Lake City!” opening—and added to the feeling that Apple just wants to play her music and sing her songs; if people want to be there for it, they’re welcome to it, but they shouldn’t expect any traditional performance trappings. The encore was Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe,” a pretty song with lots of organ, though it seemed an odd choice to end with a cover.
Overall, it was a great night. It was incredibly surreal to hear these songs—the soundtrack to so many unhappy, confused years—being sung just yards away by Apple herself. I had nonstop chills, and the feeling wasn’t unique to myself, judging by the rapt faces and chair-swaying going on around me. You never lose those strange, twisty feelings, no matter how many years have passed since the events that caused them.
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)
* I once read somewhere (though I can’t find the source now) that Apple said it’s the only true love song she’s ever written, which, if true, is really depressing, considering that it seems pretty clearly to be about someone who knows that her partner is being unfaithful and is willing to just deal with it, OR someone who is the “other woman” and is waiting patiently for her guy to come see her; either way a downer, as far as I’m concerned. Yahoo! disagrees with me, saying it’s “often called Fiona Apple's happiest song (and certainly the only truly upbeat track on When The Pawn) … the words tell of a kind of devotion often overlooked in music today. Apple understands that things don't always work out easily, but sometimes the best things are worth waiting for.” What? Yahoo!, did we listen to the same song?
Rachel Piper Twitter: @RachelTachel