Fiona Apple @ The Peabody Opera House
Unreasonable expectations are 98% responsible for most unpleasant experiences. The dudebro next to me whined about how much he hated the opening act the entire 35 minutes of their set, and when the lights came down for the main act, in an anticipatory moment of hushed darkness, he grumbled, “Well, I hope she’s still hot.”
By way of preamble, Fiona Apple was my first chamber pop love, and we’re almost exactly the same age. When Tidal came out, I was 18, right out of high school, and I lived out in the country, where we didn’t have MTV or the internet. I didn’t really know what Fiona Apple looked like or how old she was. I just had Tidal and a boombox, and lots and lots of time to obsess over it. Fifteen years later, Tidal is still a perfect record (in more minds than my own), and last night at The Peabody Opera House, Fiona Apple didn’t rub it in anyone’s face that she was 18 years old when she wrote it. She didn’t need to. Her return to the stage, hell, the fact that she’s still alive, is more than enough of the best kind of revenge.
She stood at her microphone in her patterned tights and clumsy boots and chunky glasses and she did that thing she does, you know, when she opens her mouth and reminds everyone that she’s a fucking genius and we need her more than she needs us. And it was exquisite. “Shadow Boxer” and “Sleep to Dream” sounded as pure and badass as the day they came out. The only song she half-assed was “Criminal,” a nod to the fact that she wrote it in 45 minutes when her record label told her she needed a single.
Not surprisingly, songs from Extraordinary Machine featured her original arrangements, not the ones the record label used when they finally released the album. [edit: okay, this is overstated; the arrangement sounded, to me, a lot different from the studio album, but it's debatable whether it resembles the leaked original versions, or an entirely different arrangement altogether. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, commenter!] “Not About Love” and “Tymps” had all the sophistication and ornate orchestration one could hope for, plus provided a delicious juxtaposition to the much sparer songs on her new record. Throughout the evening, the light show was a sophisticated complement to the frenetic energy that kept the audience engaged.
Speaking of engaged, maybe even more than the music, Fiona Apple’s command of silence is unparallelled. The most notable pause was the twenty seconds of silence between the last lyric of “I Know” and the final movement of the song, when no one made a sound. Not a cough, not a whisper, not a single “WE LOVE YOU FIONA” (please stop doing that). Fiona Apple’s music is aggressive without being angry, intensely personal without being solipsistic, and completely unhinged without ever becoming uncontrolled.
Did she thrash about, forcing words out of her mouth with every clenched muscle in her body? Yeah, she did. Did she stomp and twist and twitch with the tics of someone with an untreated neurological condition? Yep. Because that’s who she is, and she has no stake in covering it up. The fragility of her body has always been a foil to the intensity of her mind. Her lyrics refer to this dichotomy dozens of times. Women in the entertainment industry are judged harshly for their physical form, by critics and fans alike. Fiona Apple’s stage presence is distracting only to people who want to objectify her, who want to get something sexy out of her performance. So, Random Dudebro, maybe to you she’s not “still hot.” But her mind is pretty much the hottest thing ever.
So, having waited 15 years to see Fiona Apple live, I had completely unreasonable expectations, yet they were 100% fulfilled. The hardest part was the waiting, and the best part was that she showed up, because it’s rather a miracle that the world hasn’t broken her. The songs from her fourth studio album, The Idler Wheel…, are just as powerful as, often even more powerful than, anything she’s written up to now. “Anything We Want” “Daredevil” “Every Single Night” and “Werewolf” slayed live. It’s no wonder why Kanye strives to be her hip hop counterpart. Her catalog holds together as a whole in a way that artists twice her age should covet. Last night, I was so proud of Fiona Apple, I could’ve split in half.
Fast as You Can
On the Bound
Anything We Want
Sleep to Dream
Every Single Night
Not About Love
It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)
PS (as a response to Kevin Johnson’s review of the show for the Post Dispatch)
Hearing “Paper Bag” live was definitely a highlight of the night. I don’t normally go into lyrics, but this sums up everything anyone needs to know about Fiona Apple:
And I went crazy again today, looking for a strand to climb,
Looking for a little hope.
Baby said he couldn’t stay, wouldn’t put his lips to mine,
And a fail to kiss is a fail to cope.
I said, ‘Honey, I don’t feel so good, don’t feel justified,
Come on put a little love here in my void,’ He said
‘It’s all in your head,’ and I said, ‘So’s everything’
But he didn’t get it. I thought he was a man
But he was just a little boy.
Also, if you’ve not read this extensive interview slash embedded journalist piece on Fiona Apple, please do. It’s Very Special.