Saturday, July 28, 2012
The Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: A whole, whole lot of things.
At its maximum intensity, the voice of Fiona Apple reaches a gorgeous shatter, a crackling, breaking-apart sort of growl that sounds as if the singer is shredding her vocal cords right then and there. The sound is both incredibly moving -- what words Apple sings with it one can't not believe -- and terrifying, its naked urgency suggesting that the singer is grating off pieces of herself somewhere inside.
Apple reached reached up into that damaged growl for "On the Bound," only the second song of her sold-out show at the Fox Theater on Saturday. It had us worried: Could she really push her voice that hard for a whole show? Would all of her singing become an unfocused scrape at some point?
No. In addition to her wild energy -- flailing around the stage, prostrating herself on her knees during instrumental breaks, and jumping up and down at points -- Fiona Apple displayed a superhuman command of her voice onstage at the Fox, eliciting a fearsome growl whenever she wanted and, just as easily, coaxing her vocal cords down into an intimate, immaculate near-whisper. She remained in perfect almost-control for 17 songs, delivering an intense, moving set to a room of adorers.
Watching Fiona Apple is almost as exciting as listening to her. The singer's diminutive body barely filled out a little black dress, but it flits around in a way that suggests she can barely contain some humongous energy inside. She spent most of Saturday's show singing at the microphone, letting her quietly brilliant four-piece band handle the instruments. At the mic, Apple fidgeted with a purple shawl, stared intensely at the crowd while leaning out over the stage, and undid her long, brownish red hair and let it drape over her shoulders as she swayed to the music. Her eyes, even from two sections back, appear huge -- it might be fair to say that everything about Apple is a great deal larger and more powerful than her body's narrow outline suggests.
Even the reclusive singer seemed unprepared for the level of fan adoration she received, which filled every between-song silence with shouts of "I Love You" and had large swathes of the crowd singing along to every word. (It turns out Apple fans don't have quite the vocal powers of the artist herself.) "It makes me so nervous, but in the best way possible," she said of reading her fan mail. "I know that I need you way more than you need me."
But as the night wore on, it became clear that the world needs Fiona quite a bit. Early-career hits like "Shadowboxer" and "Fast as You Can" got muscular, satisfying arrangements from her band, but their performances of songs from latest album The Idler Wheel... were riveting. With the barest of accompaniments, including an upright bass, Apple' voice was quietly meandered the tortured rises and falls of "Werewolf." The intimacy remained on "Every Single Night," where Apple reached up into the top of her range for an almost-whisper that could have defined the entire show: "I just want to feeeeel everything." She positively boomed on "Criminal," eliciting that woman-wielding-thunderbolts feeling at the middle of her voice that makes some her early work a little intimidating. And of course, on "Daredevil," Apple came back once again to her throaty, desperate growl, walking on the edge of total destruction and total beauty, and seeming completely, utterly comfortable there.
Overheard: "What is it that's so hot about a crazy, skinny bitch?"
Setlist and more photos after the jump.