The year is 1996. A young girl stumbles in front of the TV and turns on MuchMusic. On the screen there is a thin frail looking young woman sitting in her underwear on the kitchen counter. In come the drums, followed by piano as she stares down the camera with her huge blue eyes and sings ‘I’ve been a bad bad girl’.
This was my first encounter with Fiona Apple. Within a couple bars of ‘Criminal’ I was hooked. The next day I went out to my local music store and bought her debut CD Tidal and played it in such heavy rotation that while it sits on my shelf to this day, it no longer works (present me is very thankful for the MP3s). I dove deep into that album soaking up every chord, cadence, and punctuated note; Hung on every lyric and breath; and danced with the demons Apple was fighting.
Upon the discovery of When the Pawn… followed by Extraordinary Machine, and now The Idler Wheel… I’ve done much the same.
Ever since I discovered this amazing voice I’ve longed to see her perform live and 16 years later it finally happened at The Sound Academy on June 4th. In the weeks leading up to the show I had become hesitant about finally seeing Apple live. I had held this siren in such high regard, and all of the videos I’d seen of her performances on Youtube were, in my opinion, pretty lack luster. There was always something that didn’t translate well to the screen like an impenetrable wall.
I arrived at The Sound Academy to a near packed house. The crowd was a diverse cross section – a testament to just how far reaching Fiona Apple’s music is.
She walks onto the stage to applause and cheers. Apple is an incredibly slim and small woman, hair back, purple scarf around her neck. Her eyes are as piercing as ever, the only clue that she has got so much fire in her belly. As the first few beats of Fast As You Can ring out, the crowd cheers and I feel like I’ve just walked through the door to ecstasy.
Live Fiona Apple is quite an experience. She is present for each note. Every song is like a raw nerve. She sings it as though it was written yesterday and it feels as though she is working through her pain in front of you. The bass was moody; piano precise; her lyrics bite into you like a dog tearing flesh. When she performs, she’s out for blood.Her smiles, though rare, are captivating and she draws you into the murky waters of her life as she sways and dances along to her incredible talented band.
I think what I’ve always loved most about Fiona Apple is that she experiences music in a very similar fashion to myself. She plays with it in ways I long to play, and she emotes the way I long to emote with the songs that I write. Her lyrical imagery is tactile in nature. There’s play with notes and pitches to compliment her lyrics in a way that propels you deeper into each song’s unique world.
The entire set was a great cross-section of content spanning across her four albums. Her version of Not About Love was a huge standout. It was so gritty and earthy yet every so often she would back off and hang her voice on a breeze. Apple’s vocal texture is even more amazing live than I could have imagined. I was constantly impressed with how she could move from her strong stance in mid alto range to a light high soprano (particularly in her rendition of Extraordinary Machine). It was effortless and delicate while remaining powerful.
It’s no secret that Fiona Apple is a quirky individual who has always lived life according to her own definitions ( for more on that check out her acceptance speech at the MTV Music awards years back). The show would not have been complete without a quirk or two of its own.
As she completes what is supposed to be the last song of her set (a heavy hearted version of Criminal) the crowd goes wild. The Lights begin to dim and she stands there a minute before saying “oh. ok, one more…” and we begin to cheer. “Wait, Hold on” she then says “That was awkward…. This is the encore” Her band strikes up and she croons out a beautiful cover of Conway Twitter’s It’s Only Make Believe. As I’m watching her sing and coyly crack a smile at her drummer/pianist my eyes begin to well up. I feel such a strange sense of closure. Seeing this artist perform live has been a desire for so long, and its occurrence exceeded my expectations in every way.
As Apple leaves the stage I wipe a stray tear from my cheek and skip my way to the exit arm in arm with my concert going friends.
I. am. Invigorated.
Since the show I’ve been listening to The Idler Wheel… a lot this week. Memories of her performance wash over me as I drive about the city. Her album has been re-energizing my spirit after a hard day at work; yet also it also has the capability of lulling me into a hush. I find new sounds each time I hear it.
I am still in awe of her.
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 Twitter cover)