Let’s start off with the facts. Fiona Apple has been in the music business for 16 years and currently back from her six-year hiatus. Her latest album, The Idler Wheel…, has garnered tons of critical praise and is one of the best releases this year. And on Sunday night, she took the stage in front of a sold-out and insanely excited Los Angeles crowd at the Hollywood Palladium.
But if there’s something that hasn’t changed at all for Apple, it’s that she’s as emotionally charged as ever – perhaps even more so now. In the past, she’s has let her emotions get the best of her a couple of times, leading to some public criticism. However, that was about a decade ago. Today, she’s definitely more mature and control of her emotions, evidenced by the devastatingly powerful and beautiful performance she put on for the awe-struck crowd.
Apple’s spectacular set took about an hour and a half and consisted of older songs. In fact, only four new songs from The Idler Wheel… were performed, but the crowd had no problem with it at all. By the time she took the stage, it was almost 30 minutes after her scheduled start time. But in typical-yet-quirky Apple charm, she apologized to the crowd as she had no excuses, just nerves. And you can tell it that she was legitimately nervous – she kept fidgeting with her hair or her scarf in between songs. All it showed was another side to Apple that she isn’t afraid to show, and that kind of emotional transparency is what made her set very compelling and genuine.
She opened with the frenetic and face-paced “Fast As You Can,” then followed it up with “On the Bound” and “Shadowboxer” that pulled everyone into 90s nostalgia immediately. By then, Apple made it clear that her backup band was going to up at the forefront with her – especially guitarist Blake Mills (also the opener for the night), who delivered blistering guitar riffs and solos throughout, and drummer Amy Wood, who provided a stellar rhythm for the night’s delicate melodies. Even songs that were piano-led put the spotlight and attention on them.
What made the show an actual experience is that when she sang the lyrics, you can really feel the emotion that resonated from the song. For example, in the multi-layered “Anything We Want,” you can feel the intimate nature of the song as she delivered the lines “and I kept touching my neck to guide your eye to where I wanted you to kiss me/when we find some time alone.” And at other times, her raw delivery on songs such as “Every Single Night” and “Paper Bag” made you feel sympathy for her due to the intense nature of the songs. It was this type of performance that defined what a concert experience should be like – being able to feel what the performer is trying to convey, expressing sympathy while she exposes her vulnerability.
At other times, it was simply impressive to hear the raw power behind Apple’s delivery, as her stout contralto traveled throughout the Palladium with clarity and confidence wanting to burst beyond the venue walls. On “Daredevil,” you can immediately hear the tremble and aggression in her voice as she sang “seek me out/look at look at look at me/I’m all the fishes in the sea/wake me up/give me give me give me what you got/in your mind, in the middle of the night.” And in contrast, “Werewolf” and “Extraordinary Machine” were more minimal numbers that she sang with delicacy over a piano, with which she also harmonized with her vocals. It’s her uncanny ability to be flexible and agile with her vocals that shows her amazing control over her voice and her emotions.
And on a night were the crowd (or most of them) cheered and hollered at every moment they could, closer “Not About Love” drew one of the loudest reactions. Mostly everyone was dancing, bobbing up and down, or singing along (some did all three at once), as they did throughout the night. Without doing the whole encore shtick (get off the stage and come back on later), Apple explained to the crowd to pretend they had a time machine and move forward in time as if she left the stage and came back on. To officially end the night, she did a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.” It was easily one of the more devastatingly beautiful moments of the night and created a sense of surrealism that made it the perfect way to send everyone home.
If there’s one thing that isn’t ‘make believe,’ it’s Fiona Apple. Personally, it’s one of the few shows that I’ve been to that I can actually call a performance. I don’t know how many times I can reiterate this enough, but if you want to actually see a performer wear her heart on her sleeve then see Fiona Apple. If you want to feel the same emotions that a performer feels, then see Fiona Apple. Her show is a guaranteed real, raw, genuine, and downright mesmerizing experience.