Fiona Apple, Blake Mills - The Greek Theatre - 9/14/12
See also: Our review of Fiona Apple at the Hollywood Palladium
Photos by Falling James Zac Rae, Fiona Apple and Amy Wood
Fiona Apple, Blake Mills
The Greek Theatre
Better than . . . getting knocked out by shadows.
There's something about Fiona Apple that makes you want to take care of her. Maybe it's because she's so slender, you assume she must be frail. Perhaps it's because of her notorious power struggles with her record company and the music industry in general, or that so many of the singer-pianist's songs deal with the ravages of romantic despair.
She apparently has a major case of stage fright. At Apple's concert at the Hollywood Palladium in July -- on her first major tour in seven years -- she came out 20 minutes late, apologizing to the crowd that she'd been nervous. Last night's show at the Greek Theatre also ran a little behind, but that was because the venue staff wanted to give fans more time to arrive due to a brush fire near the Getty Center that was delaying traffic across the city.
As at the Palladium, Apple's guitarist Blake Mills opened with a set of laidback country-folk songs. He and Apple shared bands in July, but Friday night he was mainly backed by Apple sideman Sebastian Steinberg on upright bass. Later, Mills would tear out several really fiery, dazzling solos during Apple's show, but his guitar playing was more restrained during his own set, and his vocals were similarly low key and restfully unhurried.
Bassist Sebastian Steinberg and singer-guitarist Blake Mills
Mills noted the irony about singing a cottony and loping tune with a title like "Half Asleep" when he was supposed to be getting the audience fired up, but much of the late-arriving crowd appreciated his quietly artful guitar enchantments, especially on a languidly dreamy, set-ending cover of Santo & Johnny's classic instrumental "Sleep Walk." Employing his slide so that it sounded like a pedal steel, Mills stayed mostly true to the original, with its sublime ghostly-weepy shimmers, although Apple's keyboardist Zac Rae jazzed it up nicely when he came out to spin a madly groovy Jimmy Smith-style organ solo.
You want to take care of Fiona Apple, but maybe she doesn't need any help. She's tougher than she looks, "an extraordinary machine" as she proudly declared halfway through the show. When she made her entrance, stalking restlessly around the stage and urging her attentive four-piece band along on "Fast as You Can," Apple looked fierce and determined, even in a summery sleeveless pinkish-orange gown. The decisive way the native New Yorker and longtime Angeleno pounded her poor piano on the ensuing "On the Bound" and "Shadowboxer" was anything but wimpy.
Sebastian Steinberg, Fiona Apple and Blake Mills
Apple might have stage fright, but she was relaxed enough to say daft, spontaneous things to the near-capacity crowd, as when she complimented a distant fan who was walking up a staircase to the terrace bleachers, telling her that she had a great silhouette. For all of Apple's outer aplomb, though, she seemed genuinely touched and even surprised when the audience sang a full version of "Happy Birthday" in honor of her birthday on Thursday.
There wasn't any noticeable stage fright in Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart's singing, which moved easily from a honeyed melodiousness to stark, soul-scouring howls. Another early highlight was "Anything We Want," from her new album (take a deep breath), The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. That's the song she memorably debuted with the Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in June. "Anything" is just a little too slow to dance crazy to, but the arrangement is insidiously funky, with the clang-bang metallic percussion adding an oddly poignant clockwork counterpoint to the narrator's vulnerably hopeful romantic entreaties.
Apple mixed up the set list a little last night, playing a total of six songs from The Idler Wheel, adding two key tracks that she and the band didn't get around to at the Palladium, "Periphery" and "Left Alone." With Zac Rae's playful yet firmly resolute bottom-end piano rolls and drummer Amy Wood's seemingly psychic accents, "Periphery" carried on with a jauntily rollicking foundation, giving Apple an anchor to hold on to as her airy singing spiraled ever higher in pitch, dancing teasingly in the spaces between Rae's rolling chords. "Left Alone" was more sinister and darkly hilarious, with Apple calling herself "a moribund slut" and sounding more than a little sweetly insane when she cooed defiantly, "Tears calcify in my tummy."