"I can't believe I flew to New York City for a concert," said the man in front of me before Fiona Apple's sold out show at New York's Bowery Ballroom. Was it worth it? I didn't see him after, but I'll assume he was happy. The reclusive singer played her second and most intimate of three NYC shows (her last one is at Governors Ball on June 24), performing a brief but emotional set that included crowd singalongs, three new songs and an impromptu Beatles cover.
The 13-song set lasted just over an hour, with Apple alternating between standing center stage and sitting at the candle-decorated piano. Live, her voice bends in ways only hinted at on record: A guttural growl on "On the Bound"; a gentle warble on "A Mistake"; visceral screams on "Sleep to Dream" and "Criminal"; and a pixieish falsetto on "Extraordinary Machine." The latter, in this context, felt as much as a life summation (and inevitable bio title) as song.
Her dancing is more Ian Curtis than pop starlet; all jerky limbs and in-the-moment flailing complementing the singer's raw lyricism. Tonight, especially on new tracks "Anything We Want" and the jazzy swing of "Valentine," both from Apple's upcoming album The Idler Wheel…, she looks relatively comfortable (or at least as comfortable as she can get on stage). On "Sleep to Dream," the crooked arm resting on her hip displays a confident "F**k off" pose as much as the searing lyric, "I got my own hell to raise."
When Apple tries stage banter, it's endearingly nervous; a mile-a-minute meta-stream-of-consciousness revolving mostly around Apple admitting that she's saying out loud what she was thinking to herself. " I don't want to go through this whole f**kin' show where it's like, six songs in and I'm f**king relaxed," she says after opener "Fast As You Can." "I'm just going to skip that part." Yet her creative phrasing remains. When a fan asked for a setlist, she intuitively retreated on stage while telling him, politely, "I take the fifth…physically."
Towards the end of the set, guitarist Blake Mills played the opening notes of The Beatles' "Across the Universe," a song Apple covered for the Pleasantville soundtrack, causing the singer to playfully scream "No!" before laughing and threatening to torture Mills. She relented, singing two verses and leaving the crowd speechless. Fiona Apple: appearing happy, healthy and ready to return to the spotlight.
1. Fast as You Can
2. On the Bound
3. Paper Bag
4. A Mistake
5. Anything We Want
7. Sleep to Dream
8. Extraordinary Machine
9. Every Single Night
12. Across the Universe (The Beatles cover)
13. It's Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)
Fiona Apple, "Fast As You Can" (Live at Bowery Ballroom)
Fiona Apple, "Criminal" (Live at Bowery Ballroom)
Fiona Apple, "Sleep to Dream" (Live at Bowery Ballroom)
Fiona Apple, "Anything We Want" (Live at Bowery Ballroom)