Monday, March 19, 2012

Show review: Fiona Apple at Lincoln Hall, 3/18

By Andrew Hertzberg

photo from facebook
Fiona Apple played the third show of her mini tour at a sold out Lincoln Hall in Chicago last night (the first two were at SXSW in Austin on Wednesday and Thursday). She hasn’t toured in five years, and her last release was 2005’s Extraordinary Machine. The follow up to that was recently announced with a June release scheduled and only her second longest album title: The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do.

I can’t say what I expected going into the concert. It certainly wasn’t strobe lights. But that’s what we got to accompany the head-banging thrasher of "Fast As You Can." I knew Apple wasn’t the most complacent musician out there, but I didn’t know she was actually that much of an ass-kicking one. Her backing band (guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard) were all solid players who somehow managed to keep up with the dynamic style of Apple. Recorded, Apple’s songs sound like they’re helped a lot by studio tricks and the advantage of static recordings, but the live translation still retains her signature sound, with the help from synthesized strings, upright bass and the drummer’s ability to mix rock with jazz beat keeping (I think she was chewing gum too). The live versions of all the songs took on new life when performed, mostly in thanks to her personal energy. At times it looked like she was exorcizing demons out of her body, and considering her rough past, that’s entirely possible literally as it is figuratively.

The most dramatic shift of the night was when she took to the piano on a stage bathed in blue to perform a new one, "Valentine," a depressingly heartbroken song (or is it a heartbreakingly depressing song?). And just like that, she transitioned from sounding so helpless to expressing a pure anger with sawtooth guitar and climbing-up-the-walls urgency of "Sleep to Dream" from her 1996 debut, Tidal. Followed by "Extraordinary Machine," she finally reached self-affirmation, backed by a playful bassline and whimsical slide guitar: “I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine,” she sang; “Yeah you are!” was the audience response.

She didn’t say much to the audience, but she really didn’t have to. She had two mugs of tea throughout, mentioning cottonmouth, but quick to point out that she wasn’t even smoking pot. Her voice is certainly unique, and sounded a bit rough, but that only added to the tension that she built. "Every Single Night" was another new one, with a subtle intensity and a tribal-like chant for a chorus. Honestly, it was a little reminiscent of Tom Waits (and apparently I’m not the only one who thought so of her performance).

The set closed with "Criminal," her first single released oh so long ago. The piano lead just sounds so tortured on this track, correlating to the lyrics, and I was surprised she didn’t take to the ivories herself for this one. Overall, the evening was one filled with passion, albeit a rather short set. Lincoln Hall was the perfect setting and the sound was superb. The range of her voice from falsetto to as low as she could reach is inspiring. The set looks to be the same as what she did in Austin, so it seems like she’s trying to get back in the groove of performing live; it’ll be interesting to see if she plays the same again tonight at her second sold out show. With an ever-quickening pace of trends that come in and out, it’s great to hear that Apple still has it, immune to whatever –wave or –gaze genres come and go: she’s not a '90s icon, she’s just an icon. 

Fast As You Can 
On the Bound 
Paper Bag 
A Mistake 
Anything We Want 
Sleep to Dream 
Extraordinary Machine 
Every Single Night 

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