Given her recent drug arrest and her reputation as an uneven performer, Fiona Apple’s concert at The Fillmore Wednesday could’ve been a disaster. And although it wasn’t entirely drama-free, it never really threatened to derail. Yes, Apple ranted a bit about her arrest and the 40-some TVs that constantly run ads during concerts at the venue (a valid complaint - concert halls aren't sports bars and it detract from the ambiance). But mostly she tried to deflect attention from her recent arrest by mentioning a Hudspeth County, Texas environmentalist that fought proposals that would turn his home county - the one known for pulling over tour buses and arresting stars like Apple and Willie Nelson - into a dumping ground for sewage and radioactive waste. She scrawled his name - Bill Addington - on her loose white t-shirt.
Apple is known for her candor and the raw honesty of her lyrics. That’s what we dig about her, so a canned, opinion-free performance from the diminutive singer would have been a bigger disappointment than one laden with outbursts. But for every brief outburst, she’d apologize a song later.
Her singing oozed emotion and realness. Her band was spot-on, holding things together when Apple appeared most fragile. Guitarist Blake Milles reminded me of a sort of Lyle Lovett-meets-Chris-Isaak as a bluesy, creative guitar wizard during his opening set. Drummer Amy Wood is more of a thoughtful, jazzy percussionist than heavy handed beat keeper. They, along with the rest of the four-piece group, cast a moody, dynamics-driven setting for Apple’s emotional songs.
As local musician Bruce Hazel mentioned four or five songs in, “Apple came out swinging.” He wasn’t referring to angry banter, but the strong set list that included “Fast As You Can,” “On the Bound,” “Shadowboxer” and “Paperbag.” At times her voice grew to a hoarse growl on songs like “Get Gone.” She spat the lyrics of “Sleep to Dream.” But those moments added to the raw nature of the lyrics and the vulnerability of her performance. She played up the jazzy musical theater aspect of “Extraordinary Machine” and delivered “I Know” with sultry intimacy. She hit on new tracks “Werewolf,” “Left Alone,” “Every Single Night,” “Periphery,” and “Daredevil,” but most of the older songs in the set were culled from 1999’s “When the Pawn…,” which to me is the ultimate Apple album. She did not, however, perform an encore or play her biggest hit “Criminal.” But from what I’ve heard that wasn’t unusual.
Later in the set she addressed her inability to avoid controversy apologizing for being cranky and basically saying, “After 17 years anyone that’s worked with me - you do not tell me not to say something right before I walk on stage.”
I’ve read complaints about Apple’s demeanor. I’ve also heard raves about Wednesday’s show. I fall somewhere in the middle. Yes, she’s super skinny. Calling her skinny is like the guy in front of me at Coachella calling the Pixies old and fat (this isn’t news). I was just hoping for a mostly professional performance from Apple, which I think we got. My husband saw her here in the late `90s and she continually apologized for her performance, which can be really annoying (and just draws attention to flaws most of the audience probably didn’t notice in the first place). I’ve also seen her as a complete pro guesting with Nickel Creek.
Wednesday was also somewhere in between. She didn’t storm off. She didn’t cry. She didn’t turn into Billie Joe Armstrong and rant about what an important artist she is and “how dare they…” Maybe some folks are just less comfortable with a woman sharing her thoughts, but that’s why her audience has stuck with her. Apple’s lyrics are an open, poetic, metaphorical book that are still universal enough that we can pin our own drama to them. A staid, safe performance would’ve been a disappointment.