Removing her glasses because they "make her nauseous," Fiona Apple took the stage at Peabody Opera House on Saturday night, barefaced and vulnerable in her blindness, and proved she meant it when she said, "Now…I just know that you have to go out and be yourself and go out and be honest…. I don't have to do anything fake…. I don't have to worry about hiding anything that's myself."
Indeed: "What I am is what I am / 'Cause I does what I does." And she did, on this July night, what she does -- a full 90 minutes of songs from each of her four albums, plus a show-stopping cover of Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe" for the encore, complete with a full orchestra of sounds, body convulsions and, in true Fiona-fashion, the rawest expression of human emotion.
Yes, "I just wanna feel everything," she warbled to us. "Heaven help me for the way I am."
Tip-toeing around stage, at once oblivious to the world with her eyes unfocused, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth, utterly consumed with her own thoughts and emotions, Fiona was nevertheless fully connected, as if she were a medium channeling a collective unconscious of all that came -- or felt -- before her: "My heart's made of parts of all that's around me / And that's why the devil just can't get around me."
That seems to be the crux of what makes her so fascinating -- though almost childlike when singing, twirling her skirt like a little girl, it is that contrast of innocence with such deep pathos that mesmerizes. Nothing last night warranted "fierce" or "crazy," as some inaptly dub her, and she was certainly not deserving of any such derision as "ridiculous." Fiona Apple was lovely in her genuineness, magnetic in her unabashed vulnerability, and other-worldly in her ability to summon in us such feelings of heartbreak, loneliness, despondency, fear, and rage, to name just a few of the myriad emotions she invoked last night.
This spring, she opened a show in New York with the statement: "I will give you everything I can possibly give you." The same was true in St. Louis, where Fiona exhibited full physical and emotional abandon, giving us everything she had and everything she could muster. She thinks with her body and talks with her body, each movement playing a note and each emotion driving the music -- each quiver of her head, each twitch of her shoulder, each stomp of her foot is another pin striking a tooth of the music box's comb. She even collapsed onto the floor at the end of the show.
It's got to be tough to be so honest; maybe that explains her long periods of hiatus, maybe her breaks are all about self-preservation; perhaps a soul so naked must retreat and repair itself before submitting to the world again. "Oh Honey I've gone away / Honey I've gone away / Honey, I've gone away"… "I let the beast in too soon, I don't know how to live / Without my hand on his throat; I fight him always & still." Or maybe it isn't the world's emotion that beats her down. Maybe she's her own worst enemy -- "myself, I can't deceive." "Every single night's a fight with my brain," she roared; "don't let me ruin me / I may need a chaperone."
Of course, an unexamined life is one not worth living; by facing such truth, some would argue, we find real freedom: "It's time the truth was out / And then we can do anything we want." And truly, hers was no facile sincerity, but some sort of soothsaying -- I don't know for sure, but whatever it is she's divining, it's damn good.
Older, wiser and full of more raw emotion (if that's possible) than when she appeared on scene a mere 19-year-old "Sullen Girl," Fiona Apple's 2012 reemergence with "The Idler Wheel…" is ablaze with as much soul as ever, and those of us peppering the audience last night were fortunate to experience her "sitting singing again, singing again, singing again," to witness her once again "blooming within."
On one of the first days of the summer that would not boast 100 degree heat and above, Blake Mills took the Peabody Opera House stage at almost exactly 7:30 p.m. with a casual air and complete cool.
The Peabody's lobby alone, its grand staircases, its crannies -- Art Deco'd and opulent -- can intimidate, but in jeans and t-shirt, Mills flipped his hair, tickled his amp with a dial, checked the tuning (as if his guitar hadn't been tuned specifically for the song and his set list long before), and proceeded to confidently open up a concert for arguably one of the most enigmatic and singularly-revered divas of song today, Fiona Apple.
Blake Mills at Peabody Opera House. Photo by Meghan McGlynn.
For a not-even-30-something, that's a highlight. For Blake Mills, it must have felt like destiny:
- Born and raised in Santa Monica
- Released an album with high school buddies and band Simon Dawes
- Session guitarist for names like Band of Horses, Weezer and Andrew Bird
- Hangs out at Largo, gets noticed
- Releases "Break Mirrors" 2010
- Wrote and released "It Will All Work Out," one of the nicest ballads out of the financial crises that rings as true as anything John Prine or John
- Hartford ever penned and played
- Tours and records with Jesca Hoop and Lucinda Williams
- Tours as band guitarist and opener for Fiona Apple 2012
It's going to happen…. We'll be forced to buy, steal, or Spotify his first album to round out the awareness. By then we'll have noticed his "Austin City Limits"-style guitar influence in advertising, a particularly well-done TV commercial or his presence on the soundtrack of a summer teen blockbuster or a compilation album with another favorite artist, and then later in a shout-out in New York Magazine, an interview in INTERVIEW, a Saturday Night Live appearance, a sold-out show at Terminal 5, the Pageant, a venue near you, then another, a lauded and intimate performance at Joe's Public with surprise guest artists or something…
…Then he's there, fixed in the social consciousness, and part of the lexicon; all before he's 30. For someone who laments in song that he wishes he could, "change the history of my life sometimes," he's got a better history than most and a future so bright, Fiona Apple's glowering glow brings out his boyish shine. Not bad, Blake my boy, not bad.
Fiona Apple set list:
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 (Conway Twitty cover)