Fiona Apple and Blake Mills
Liberty Hall, Lawrence
Saturday, October 12, 2013
The quick critique
: Demonstrating her vocal prowess through complex melodies and blissful harmonies with Blake Mills, Fiona Apple bared her tortured soul Saturday night at Liberty Hall, proving that she probably couldn't do anything other than make music - and we wouldn't want her to.
Fiona Apple was not cut out to be a superstar. Wearing a ripped black camisole, a simple black skirt, and loose-fitting tights, the 36-year-old singer seemed nervous onstage, often sipping from multiple cups of tea or clinging to one of her many percussive instruments like they were the only things keeping her grounded. But when she sat down at the piano, her face lit up.
"Oh, a Kawai!" she exclaimed. "I had one of these as a kid!"
She went on to tell a story about how looking at her favorite cat sticker cheered her up when she was learning how to play as a youngster. She'd traded her whole sticker book to get it, and it delighted her to no end. Then someone emerged from offstage and swiveled the microphone in front of her face. She'd forgotten to use it. Anyone outside of the first few rows probably could not hear her.
All of the articles about Apple's onstage meltdowns make sense when you see her live. She seems to live largely inside her own head. The audience could be three people or 300, and you'd probably get the same ratio of moments brimming with raw, transcendent beauty to deer-in-the-headlights stares. One time, Apple reminded herself out loud that the show wasn't over, and she had to go on.
Apple's appearance has always been a popular topic among fans and critics alike; just a few weeks ago, she threw a fan out of a show for heckling her on the subject
. While that heckler might have been out of bounds, and while it's certainly true that society's preoccupation with deciding what is attractive when it comes to women's bodies is inexcusable, it does bear mentioning that Apple is extremely thin. It took a few songs to get used to her gaunt appearance. The image that she presents is a haunting complement to her music.
Fortunately, Blake Mills softens her and the experience for the audience. His complex guitar work and pleasant, wholesome voice nicely balanced Apple's rough edges. He had the ability to keep Apple in the moment - and when he accomplished that, what a beautiful moment it was. When Apple started singing, she snapped into the zone, fully embodying the character of the song, whether it was an uplifting harmony with Mills or a gut-wrenching screamer about lost love. Apple's voice was the most powerful, multifaceted instrument on that stage.
This intense talent, coupled with her flaws and inherent weirdness, makes Apple a very human, relatable performer. She's not trying to personify a product that can be packaged and sold. It's simple, really - she does what she does because it's what she was meant to do, and no one else could do it, even if she's occasionally overwhelmed by it.
Through their onstage back-and-forth, it's clear that Mills understands and connects with Apple in a way she desperately needs. They even bickered, arguing about who misspelled "Triple" with two p's on the set list. They both denied it - repeatedly. Mills suggested sending a corrective e-blast.
"This is what it's like on the tour bus all day," their bass player interrupted, providing a little levity. "Except closer together."
From start to finish, the encounter was captivating, despite the total absence of Apple's biggest hits. On "Dull Tool," Apple repeated the phrase "You don't kiss when you kiss/you don't fuck when you fuck/you don't say what you mean/you don't talk loud enough," her voice never wavering or losing strength. I started to wonder: Where is this power coming from? Is her tiny body filled mostly with a giant pair of lungs?
Toward the end of the show, she addressed the audience directly for one of the first times all night. She confessed that she'd been a little down in the dumps that day. "But you guys made it better," she said. "Thank you."