Fiona Apple has never played by the rules. "It's all an adventure," the singer-songwriter told Rolling Stone in 1997, when asked about the best piece of advice she'd ever received. "Do whatever you want." At the time, Apple was just 20 years old and had recently released her debut album, Tidal. Fourteen years, two albums and a prolonged period of inactivity later, she's still living on her own terms. On Sunday evening, after performing just under an hour of tunes at Chicago's Lincoln Hall to kick off a mini-tour, Apple ripped off her mike, bid the crowd farewell and strutted offstage, leaving no hope for an encore.
No matter. Apple wasted little time in proving herself as animated and enthralling a performer as she was during her Nineties heyday. Performing for an audience that included members of Wilco, she emerged onto a cramped stage with her four-piece crack band, a cup of tea, a makeshift metal pipe-based instrument and a goodie bag full of what one can only imagine. Candles flickered atop a well-worn grand piano resting on the stage. There was no hello. No small talk. No chatter. Instead, she began to spasm as her band cranked into the stop-start, piano-based jazz groove of "Fast as You Can," a jolt of energy from her 1999 LP When the Pawn. The first tune set the pattern for the evening: Apple would plow through a number in quick fashion and with no frills or flair, only hard-charging adrenaline. After each song, the band would keep playing while Apple shimmied, slithered and convulsed to her own whimsy. Later, while seated at the piano, her eyes took on a frantic gaze. The band provided just enough swagger to flesh out the singer's manic desires while never overshadowing the night's clear centerpiece.
The set was sprinkled with fan favorites: the sultry swing of "Sleep To Dream" countered the quirky splash of "Extraordinary Machine"; the gentle, lilting "Paper Bag" danced alongside the tidal wave of "Carrion." But just as she did in her two performances at SXSW last week, Apple also unveiled three new numbers, all of which one can safely assume will see the light of day on the singer's recently announced mouthful-of-a-fourth album, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. "Anything We Want" and "Valentine" came in succession, the former a longing for affection (You can see it … and will grow ... take our clothes off/ And you will remember that I wanted you to kiss me") that swirled around a revolving sample of the aforementioned metal pipe instrument. "Valentine" is a more forlorn, ruminative piano-based number that sees Apple finding solace in reality ("I stand no chance of growing up/I've made my peace, I'm dead and done"). Apple grappled with herself on the third new tune, "Every Single Night": "I just want to feel everything/ So I'm gonna try to be still.”
It was a lovefest thoughout: cries of, "We love you," and, "Goddamn, we missed you" sprang up from the crowd, eliciting a rare laugh and childlike smile from the otherwise firmly-focused Apple. As she ended the evening with Tidal’s sexually-charged single "Criminal," Apple swayed in the shadows with the back of her hand resting on her forehead, much like a child checks for a fever. The band continued, but Apple had already moved on: swiftly, with fluid movements, she removed her wireless mike, wrapped it in a tidy ball and placed it atop the piano. Apple posed, almost Shakespearian-like for a moment. "I love you very, very much. Goodbye," she finally said, addressing the crowd one of the few times all evening. Then, she disappeared.
"Fast As You Can"
"On The Bound"
"Anything We Want"
"Sleep To Dream"
"Every Single Night"