See also: Our Fiona Apple slideshow
It's hard to be a Fiona Apple fan sometimes. Half a decade can go by between tours, and the notoriously reclusive singer-pianist has released only four albums since emerging as a teenage phenom in 1994. Apple's latest album, The Idler Wheel . . ., is her first full-length work since 2005's Extraordinary Machine, and she hasn't toured widely in six years.
At least her L.A. followers have had the chance to catch Apple's occasional sets at Largo at the Coronet over the past few years. But as much fun as those surprise shows have been, with Apple letting her hair down and romping it up with informal covers by the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, she generally pulls only one or two originals out of her deep paper bag of tricks. The demand to hear her own songs has only grown to the point where her more fanatic fans were ready to practically explode by the time the singer and her four-piece band finally walked out on the Palladium's large stage.
For all of the sweetly charming melodies that lie at the heart of many of Apple's songs, there's also a sonically heavy and emotionally and powerfully raw side to her. That duality was reflected in the makeup of the largely female audience at the Palladium. Some were meek and gentle folks who hung on shyly to every psychic twist and turn of Apple's artful lyrics. Others spilled their drinks on bystanders and pushed their way across the universe of the crowded ballroom floor, whooping and hollering as if they were at a Ted Nugent concert. A six-year wait for their patron saint of lust & longing was enough to drive many of them crazy with overdriven excitement.
"I'm sorry I was late," Apple said to the capacity crowd, trying her best not to come off like a diva. "It was my fault."
She and her four-piece band started things off raucously with a driving version of "Fast as You Can." When the group kicked into a different part, most of the audience on the floor began swaying immediately en masse to the tempo shift, as if by compulsion. Halfway through the song, Apple moved away from her mic stand and sat at her black piano while Blake Mills (who'd opened the night with a set of subtle, sublimely muted and mellow reveries) unleashed a luridly wailing guitar solo.
You could hear Apple's heartbreak in the desperate howls of the next song, "On the Bound," where she further demolished the sensitive singer-songwriter stereotype. Her romantic pain was bare and exposed and almost embarrassing to witness, but there was something triumphant and cathartic in the way she managed to survive and put her heart back together.
With its dreamy piano tolling, "Shadowboxer," from Apple's 1996 debut album, Tidal, was another early favorite, drawing squeals from the madding crowd. People were overjoyed to hear Apple in such good voice on the last night of her tour, but the bonhomie didn't always extend to the other fans. One overly zealous shutterbug, clicking away obliviously, was admonished by a woman to put his camera away and just "enjoy the music." Nearby, a pair of dancers pogoed as if they were at a punk show, and several girls pushing their way late into the tightly packed throng provoked some ugly name calling and nearly started a fight.
"It's Fiona Apple!," admonished another fan, dismayed by all of the fuss and distraction while Apple was pouring her guts out on onstage. The slender 34-year-old singer was hunched over her big black piano, which managed to look both elegant and tacky, draped in a stringy dark-blue lace shawl and superimposed with the silver logos of sexy-women silhouettes like you see on the mud flaps of trucks. Apple was wrapped up in layers of purple and a red T-shirt twisted around her neck like a scarf, slowly unpeeling herself literally and emotionally, finishing the show in the sleeveless tan dress she was wearing underneath.
"Everybody should be in a band," Apple declared before launching into "Anything We Want," the first tune of the night from The Idler Wheel. When she performed it with the Roots on the Jimmy Fallon talk show a few weeks ago, the song had a skeletal, angular edginess. Tonight, the clanking junkyard percussion was also weirdly haunting, a fitting accompaniment to freaky lyrics like "My scars were reflecting the mist in your headlights" and "I looked like a neon zebra/shaking rain off her stripes," with Apple's trilling voice turning into an intricate quaver.
After the blue light glow of "Get Gone," Apple began dancing in the funky spaces of Zac Rae's cool synth sheen on "Sleep to Dream." Nimble and intuitive bassist Sebastian Steinberg switched to his upright while "Sleep to Dream" mutated into an otherworldly Hendrix-y jam, which somehow flowed into the sprightly statement of purpose "Extraordinary Machine." In the wake of the wreckage of Apple's romantic travails, it was wonderful to hear her jubilant voice sail airily and merrily unrestrained toward the Palladium's high ceiling.
"Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)" began with Mills' spectrally enchanting guitar interlude before rambling into harder and louder psychedelic passages. Apple's dancing was becoming ever stranger, as she bobbed and weaved and crouched behind her piano. Some of the songs, even new ones like "Daredevil," had fresh arrangements. When Apple sang, "Don't let me ruin me/I may need a chaperone," she practically spat it out tonight with a newfound menace in contrast to the relatively whimsical delivery on the recording.
Drummer Amy Wood laid back sympathetically to conjure a roomy jazzy idyll on "I Know," with Apple's glassy vocals floating delicately over Rae's churchy organ swells. The band (who also backed Mills during his set) changed dynamics impressively, the moods swinging near the end of the show from the surreal and vibrant new single "Every Single Night" to oldies like "Criminal" and the trippy soul-jazz-rock collision "Carrion."
Back behind the piano, Apple insisted that she was through being a fool on the set-closing "Not About Love," but she belied that doom and gloom during the encore on a windswept and sadly pretty remake of Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe." The unexpected cover was a perfectly dreamy way to close the evening, with Mills making his slide guitar sound like a pedal steel and Apple seeming more vulnerably captivating than ever.
Set list below
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 (encore; Conway Twitty cover)
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See also: Our Fiona Apple slideshow