Touring in support of her first new album in six years, quasi-recluse Fiona Apple visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue last night. The show came on the heels of rave reviews for her recent gigs at South by Southwest and New York City. There were claims that she’s “in a zone” and had come into “a new ferocity and power.” I wouldn’t consider myself a Fiona devotee but I was certainly intrigued. Did it live up to the hype? Yes. Emphatically yes.
Looking wiry and muscular, Apple took the stage like a boxer who’s been training for a comeback and was ready to fight. She seemed almost angry. She exploded into songs, shaking and kicking her legs as if she couldn’t wait a second longer to get them out. She showed remarkable vocal control, moving with ease from low-register croons to strained shrieks to crystal-clear high-pitched falsettos. The intensity stayed at 10 for the entire performance; it was nothing short of spectacular. A few thoughts on what turned out to be a remarkable set.
She’s updated her older material: Apple and her band transformed previously slinky tracks like “Criminal” and “Sleep to Dream” into menacing art-rock screechers, complete with scraping, atonal electric guitar riffs. Once suggestive, now they’re outright threatening.
The new songs are good: Apple did three tracks from her upcoming album (the one with the really long title)—”Anything We Want,” “Valentine,” and “Every Single Night.” Each has a brooding intensity and themes of heartbreak and romantic turmoil.
She hasn’t chilled out with age: Fiona’s songs have long centered on emotional conflict and, to a certain degree, masochism or self-sabotage, and that continued here. Lyric from new track “Every Single Night”: “I just made a meal for both of us to choke on.”
People love them some Fiona: I’m sure some of it has to do with the hiatus, but I can’t remember a recent show with such a reverent audience. This was a seated performance in a church, and one woman walked up to the front of the stage, stood directly in front of Apple, and pumped her fists in the direction of the singer for a good two minutes before being moved away by security. That was weird.
She might be the anti-Lana Del Rey: New York magazine’s Nitsuh Abebe touched on this a bit already, but it seems reasonable to think that part of the reason Apple’s sets have felt so vital is how much they differ from the vague, atmospheric indie currently out there . That emotionally stunted, shakily sung SNL performance people were all bummed out about? In almost every conceivable way, Fiona’s show was the polar opposite.
Setlist: Fast As You Can/On the Bound/Paper Bag/A Mistake/Anything We Want/Valentine/Sleep to Dream/Extraordinary Machine/Every Single Night/Carrion/Criminal/Across the Universe/It’s Only Make Believe