Fiona Apple w/Blake Mills
Where: Lincoln Hall
When: March 18th, 2012
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.
I’m sure many of you have been wondering what the ever-so mysterious Fiona Apple has been up to in recent years. Word of a new album with a solid release date has only just come into fruition (and yes, its title is long at 23 words, but not nearly as long as 1999’s When the Pawn…) and she’s been doing a select few dates in anticipation of said record being released by Epic Records in June of this year. One of those dates happened to be in Chicago this past Sunday at Lincoln Hall... so, now the burning question is — does she still have it?
HELL YES, Fiona Apple has still very much got her groove. As if there should ever be any question about that... sure, we’ve worried about her being “anorexic” (she’s not) or “crazy” (who isn’t?), but the heart of what matters is the undeniable talent and fierce songwriting prowess that lies within Miss Fiona Apple. Those things are very much still intact. She might have had a band of sick fellas (she was sipping quite a bit of tea onstage herself), but the show was a wonderfully engaging fit of pure emotion, unbridled musicianship, and killer vocals from Fiona and Co. The sold out crowd of Lincoln Hall surely got a treat tonight, and I’d be willing to bet that everyone in attendance would’ve agreed on their way out of the venue.
Even better than finally getting to see Fiona Apple live again after several years was her off the wall setlist that she performed. You would probably expect singles like “Shadowboxer” or “Not About Love” to pop up in her set for the night, but no sir... instead we got deep cuts like “Carrion” from Tidal and “A Mistake” from When the Pawn… I wasn’t complaining, though, because as I said at the show before she took the stage, “Fiona could sing me the phonebook and I’d leave saying it was the best show I’ve ever seen.” It’s those deep cuts, after all, that got all of us fans feeling that much closer to her. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the opening drum hits of “Sleep to Dream” and thinking how it was going to be like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Hearing that song in a live setting almost 14 years after it was released on her first record really put things into a nice perspective for me. Sure, Fiona’s been off of our radar for a while now, but she’s like a best friend to us. No matter how long she might be out of the limelight, she can come back whenever she wants and we’ll love her just the same, if not more. We love her not for writers’ opinions of her or what kind of tabloid-worthy rumors come up about her, but for the music she channels through her lungs and fingers.
At this point, I'm sure you're wondering what the new tunes sound like. "Anything We Want," "Valentine," and "Every Single Night" have a sound all their own. Some fans might say they sound closer to When the Pawn... material, but others will say they could've fit in with Extraordinary Machine. All I can say is that these new songs are completely and utterly just Fiona Apple. They're not comparable to anything she's done yet but still manage to sound like everything she's done, because it's still her. She has a sound all her own, and when you hear these new songs, you'll see exactly what I mean. They have the same bite and passion behind them as every other song we've come to know and love from Apple.
After closing her set with arguably her biggest single, “Criminal,” she left the stage with her band and would soon not return for an encore. “Across the Universe” was slated as the encore, but as her opener and fellow guitarist Blake Mills stated in his all-too-brief set, they’re sick and he himself wasn’t able to sing most of his material. As much as we wanted an encore, I know all too well what it’s like to be sick and have to work still, so no grudge will be found here. I will say that Blake Mills’ opening set of only three songs was astonishingly good considering his state of ill health. The songs were light hearted with only Mills’ crafty guitar work, frail vocals, and an upright bass to accent them. But it was the way these songs filled the room that really made them noteworthy. I look forward to a chance to see this talent again live, and just as well, I hope for another chance to see Fiona Apple live and onstage again this year. Tonight was proof that age only makes things better... and the more she writes and performs, the “better version” of Fiona we’ll get.