Fiona Apple hypnotized audiences in a rare live appearance last night, joining longtime collaborator Jon Brion at L.A.'s Largo club for an intimate, acoustic set. The ragged but charming show alternated between covers and originals and, as Apple told the audience, it comprised the pair's "first official show together."
The performance was clearly off-the-cuff, with Apple pausing frequently to look through her notebooks (and apologizing for it), and Brion quipping, "Acoustic sets mean never having to say you're sorry." (Brion, a prolific producer and pop-classical musician, maintains a regular residency at the Largo.) Nevertheless, their show had many high points, including a sublime cover of Patsy Cline's "You Belong to Me" that demonstrated Apple's incredible vocal control. Her rendition was stunning in its simplicity and directness, with no over-emoting or histrionics to be found; it should be required listening for all contestants in amateur singing competitions.
Apple's voice was spot-on throughout her eclectic selection of covers, from country odes to torch songs. After delivering her own "A Mistake" with a delicious snarl, she segued into the classic "After You've Gone" (a jazzy ballad made famous by Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald) and the Cliff Edwards saloon obscurity "Night Owl."
At the end of the evening, Apple and Brion welcomed onstage keyboardist Benmont Tench, a founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and bluegrass player Sean Watkins. They jammed on a few songs; the joyous standout was "So Sleepy," which Apple wrote with students from the nonprofit writing organization 826LA (Apple created the music, her young collaborators penned the lyrics). Onstage with Brion and their guests, Apple banged on a drum as she sang the chorus, "I'm a gummy bear / I stand up on a chair / And then I start to dance." It was the perfect end to an uplifting and passionate night of music.