TVD Live: Fiona Apple
at Warner Theatre, 6/26

In an upcoming V magazine interview set for newsstands on July 5th, Fiona Apple admits that as part of growing up, “I became less inhibited. I don’t care about being judged.” 

This was quite apparent on Tuesday night at the Warner Theatre. A gaunt, muscular Apple, no longer the malcontent ingenue of her explosive debut Tidal from sixteen years ago, treated a sold-out and appreciative audience to an emotionally dense set that drew from her entire career, showcasing songs from all four albums.

Backed with a jazzy five-piece band, Apple left us transfixed with her powerful, still-sultry voice, beginning with “Fast As You Can” from her sophomore effort, When the Pawn… Of the handful of songs where her plaintive wails were accompanied by her grand piano under changing-colored lights, “Shadowboxer” was an early and obvious favorite. Expectedly, the set was punctuated with huge applause and a standing ovation. In fact, Apple delivered everything that was expected, and more.

Now grown up, the crying waif who shocked audiences in the late ’90s and early ’00s still has a defiant streak, but it is now better harnessed and controlled, tempered by maturity, even if there are glimpses that even though she is more comfortable in her skin, she is a bit weary at times. During “Sleep to Dream” Apple stomps a booted foot angrily, in a stance with hands on hips; at other times, she broodingly sings with eyes closed, perhaps to lovers not yet forgotten, dancing in memories, gyrating underneath the familiar feel of hands long gone; still other times, she sings to the corners of the theatre, coquettishly wide-eyed, gazing out instead of lost in her own reverie.

Her material has always referenced and explored her relationships, as celebrated in her first hit “Criminal” and most recently in Idler Wheel‘s “Jonathan” (named for writer Jonathan Ames and not played on Tuesday). Apple is still aggressively sexual, bluesy, and soulful, and she does not appear to have abandoned the restlessness of her younger days. During “I Know,” a guy behind me gasps, “Oh my god” as she croons,

And I will pretend
That I don’t know of your sins
Until you are ready to confess
But all the time, all the time
I’ll know, I’ll know
And you can use my skin
To bury secrets in
And I will settle you down

However, Apple appears to still be searching, not settling down. Although the piano-playing chanteuse has evolved from “Alt-Diva” to a more timeless figure—especially evident during the simple, upbeat, slightly odd, and deliberately puerile “Every Single Night” from Idler Wheel—she ranges from retro to experimental, a not quite discomforting milieu for the audience exemplified by both that particular song and what I’ve dubbed Apple’s “piano crouch” during the show. The seemingly emotionally exhausted singer crouched on the floor next to the piano, in view underneath and framed by its legs. Later, cat- or snail-like, she curls into a ball next to the drums.

Apple’s sense of humor isn’t lost to these minor dramatics; she toasts the birthday of the girl working the merch table with (appropriately chosen) appletinis on stage, and before the encore of the country classic “It’s Only Make Believe,” she chides that we didn’t call her back for an encore but that she is “just gonna do it.”

She may no longer care about being judged, and we will pretend that we don’t know of her sins, but perhaps Fiona Apple is better appreciated knowing her past. It is touching that the singer, who originally slingshot to fame with the sexually evocative “Criminal,” chose to close out the evening with Conway Twitty’s hopeful yet melancholy lyrics “My only prayer will be, some day you’ll care for me/ But it’s only make believe.”

Fiona Apple announced more tour dates earlier this week. Rediscover her in a city near you.

Photos by Shantel Mitchell

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