- Fiona Apple
- September 15, the Joint
It was difficult to know what to expect from Fiona Apple’s set at the Joint Saturday night. Would her first major tour in seven years mirror her new record The Idler Wheel, a polarizing study in mercurial vocals and sparse instrumentation? Or would it be more like her intervening under-the-radar shows at LA’s intimate Largo Theater—acoustic, folksy and informal?
It was, in fact, neither, surprising the sparse crowd with a show that was conventionally rock 'n' roll enough to fill the shoes of a mainstream venue like the Joint while still showcasing Apple’s singular performing and songwriting style.
The set eschewed both the jazz and alt-rock of her earlier records and the piano whimsy of 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, instead injecting pared-down blues-rock into an hour-long show that surveyed tracks from across her 16-year career.
Most of The Idler Wheel's “acquired taste” elements—hoarse howls and erratic tempo shifts—were absent from the set, but the raw simplicity of the record was evident in her renditions of older tracks, breathing new life into songs whose original versions have lost their live edge over the years.
Fan favorite “Sleep to Dream,” for example, was less brooding than downright violent. Apple snarled and flailed through the strobe-lit performance, which, along with Blake Mills’ scorching guitar lines, transformed the song from a hurling accusation into an affirmation.
Conversely, new songs like “Every Single Night,” which feature little more than a keyboard and drum rattle on record, were given new conviction thanks to bassist Sebastian Steinberg and Apple’s own percussion work on the tom.
While The Idler Wheel's experimental nature has its merits, it's tempting to wonder how the album might have sounded with the reckless blues versions she and the band cook up live.
Then again, Apple has never cared about catering to appeal; it’s what defines her as an artist, and makes her more than just an extremely gifted singer. That's probably why she didn’t play her breakout and best-known single “Criminal,” why she stomps her feet and dances spastically and unselfconsciously and why she wears a bandana and long skirt rather than a sleek stage outfit.
Writhing in front of the mic, Apple is the very embodiment of her sound—one moment delicate, soft and beautiful, lips pouting in the spotlight; the next, snarling and contorted, not quite ugly, but startling as the muscles bulge on her seemingly frail arms. Her stage presence is in no way conventional: she’s smoldering and devastating, yet always in control.
Above all, Apple is a performer who performs for herself. You might not hear your favorite song, you might not like the version she sings, but you’ll never be able to say she’s just going through the motions.