It’s a shame that a distraction by a bully in one audience ultimately steered attention away from what’s really noteworthy about Fiona Apple’s live performance on this current tour: how amazingly tight, yet spontaneous both she and the band is. Throughout the show, you feel like you’re watching a theatrical performance rather than a concert because the stage feels like a play’s set. You see a table set up with teacups before anyone enters. When the four band members do enter, the show starts with Apple and drummer Barbara Gruska writing “Teach me how to be free” on a chalkboard before the entire band launches into a new song, possibly called “Tipple”. And later, when Apple moves over to grand piano and Mills launches into his “Curable Disease”, Gruska and bassist Sebastian Steinberg are no longer needed. So they clink whatever they’re drinking on stage, sit, and watch.
Indeed, it was this interplay between playful spontaneity and precision that defined Apple and tour partner Blake Mills’ show last night at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre. Gruska’s drums, Mills’ incredible guitar work, and Steinberg’s jazzy upright bass playing provided an extra oomph to songs like “Every Single Night” and “Regret” from last year’s instant classic and Top Star-earning The Idler Wheel…. While sometimes, it was the little things, perhaps unplanned, that added just the right tone to a song, like when the microphone picked up Apple tapping her drumsticks against her neck various times throughout the show, creating faint, yet still discernible percussive elements to songs that already sported unconventional percussion.
Meanwhile, the same playful, bordering on “just fucking with you” (something Mills actually said last night) attitude characterized Mills’ otherwise in-control guitar work throughout the set. Whether on Apple’s songs or on his own, Mills, seemingly a run of the mill Americana singer/songwriter, is actually an innovative guitarist with a sense of humor. During the band’s cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe”, the guitarist was able to emulate the tones of a theremin, while during the outro of his and Apple’s duet “Seven”, he repeated the same guitar riff at increasingly lower volume until it delved into silence. Then, he perked up and said, “The song was over three minutes ago.”
Most importantly, last night, it was obvious that the audience was conscious of the meltdowns that have plagued Apple’s recent shows because audience members were only shouting out words of encouragement and positivity. From “We love you Fiona!” to “You look great!”, the audience’s role as a sort of safety net gave Apple room to even joke (!) about her past on-stage troubles. “How am I supposed to have my meltdown? I don’t do Twitter,” Apple quipped at one point after warning all “assholes” to stay away.
While her self-awareness and sense of humor shone through, perhaps the best way to take in her performance, however, was to simply sit idly by and allow yourself to be captivated and even intimidated by her physical voice and her agency. Because when Apple sings “I ran out of white dove feathers/ To soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth,” she could be talking about anybody in her past or present, any given audience member. Maybe even you.
Photography by Katie Schuering.
Tipple (new song)
The First Taste
Every Single Night
Anything We Want
It’ll All Work Out
I Want You To Love Me (new song)
It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)
Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me
Waltz (Better Than Fine)