Fiona Apple Talks The Talk
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Fiona Apple was tired. She was frustrated,
bitter and she was, most of all, talkative.
At times, she was even waxing poetic.
"They wanted me in a tattered dress," Fiona Apple explained to 1,300 fans
gathered at New Jersey's State Theatre Tuesday, anxiously plowing through
her words like a nervous actress.
Apple, on the third leg of her tour in support of her debut Tidal, spent and
created as much energy in talking to her audience Tuesday night as she did in
singing to them. Either way she was speaking her mind, getting her message
out and proving that she's much more than just another waif-like icon.
When she spoke, her voice echoed through New Jersey's State Theatre like
little earthquakes, the product of some jumpy, pent-up excitement or anger
perhaps and probably something more. With a fidgety slant, she lanked in front
of her microphone and ran through her day -- a long photo shoot in New York's
Times Square, how she'd slept "about a minute and a half" the night before, and
how the photographer asked her to wear torn clothing to the set and to pose by
ripping the heads off of dolls.
Then, quite suddenly, she stopped.
For the woman who had spent the past 20 minutes in a serpentine, dangley
dancing fit, to come to a complete halt as she did was frightening to watch. Her
arms bobbed near her scant waist and her knees cocked, clumsily moving back
and forth. She jerked her neck downwards, as if to excuse the veracity of her
"Because... I dunno," she reasoned. "That's exactly what people expect me to
Immediately, a husky masculine cry of "Fuck them!" echoed from the
theater's acre-wide pattern of seats, and Apple inhaled and shrugged her
straight shoulders wildly. Grinning, her eyes wide as seashells, she nodded her
"Exactly," she answered back.
Unfortunately, it is this type of behavior which might prevent her nay-sayers and
critics from ever warming up to Apple. Sure, she's the jailbait waif in her purple panties
in the "Criminal" video. And yes, she has something to say, and she says it --
whenever she damn well pleases. But most of all, she backs it up -- if not with
words and actions, then with music and sincerity. And that's what this rock 'n'
roll thing is about anyway.
And her live performance is a chilling marvel of genre-mixing style and sound.
Opening with "Pale September," Apple sat quietly at her piano, fingering the
keys gently and creating an ironically deep and airy sound with her voice. Later,
while breathing "Shadowboxer," her breakthrough hit, Apple waved her body
back and forth at her all-male ensemble, which she later introduced with child-
Aside from her hits such as "Criminal" and "Sleep To Dream," Apple displayed a
brand of raw emotion reminiscent of Janis Joplin, with an exhausted, fragile
energy to match. A few microphone problems stole the high notes from "Slow
Like Honey" and the bittersweet "Never Is A Promise," but her vocals -- a fresh
mix of airy highs and stirring, whispered lows -- took center stage the entire
evening, gathering a standing ovation following "Sullen Girl," which deals with
the rape Apple went through seven years ago. "He washed me ashore and he
took my pearl," she whimpered, her head curved toward the keyboard and her
careworn hair draped over her cheeks, "and left an empty shell of me."
For a crowd of mostly young, white teenaged girls, this was the highlight of the
show, aside from an energetic, sexy performance of "Criminal," which excited
the rest of the caucus -- mostly young males. Some took the opportunity to
showcase their own vocal talents by disrupting the show several times to
express their undying love. Apple smiled at each compliment, even letting a fan
onstage to present her with a stuffed animal. As if to suggest she had met with
some of her fans before the show, she sent dedications out from fan to fan, as
they cooed in response to her every, slinky move.
Opening for her that night, Belgium's Hooverphonic provided an aural assault
that stood in stark contrast to Apple's more manic and disturbed approach.
Running through tracks on their debut, A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular, they came through with a
mesmerizing set filled with disco balls, keyboard effects and whispers. Their
tech-slow anthem "2Wicky" was catastrophically pretty, as was most of their set,
which looped pieces of old radio broadcasts beside a bombardment of drum
and bass grooves.
While she couldn't compete for volume, Apple's raw energy never faltered.
With a potential to redefine the word "songstress," her music covers a scarred,
jagged landscape of trauma and her presence on stage holds true to that. Her
music, a serene, eclectic blend of jazz and rock, is a complicated mix, that backs
up her stories of psychiatric drugs and a broken home that she often refers to in
Still, she doesn't embrace the sexual element of a Tori Amos or the
angry power of an Alanis Morissette. To mainstream America, perhaps, that
means she's just a bitch. Actually, Apple is simply her own brand of singer/
songwriter -- a vile scene of beauty that probably bites when provoked, but
rarely depends on being a grrl in the interest of making striking sounds and
powerful statements. Aside from her banter with the audience, she spent a good
deal of time onstage talking about her critics. After explaining the circumstances
of her afternoon photo shoot, she remarked that people would say "oh, no...
tragedy... victim... waif."
"But I'm so sick of people telling me what I am, and people thinking they know
what I should be," she said afterwards. "Fuck them."
"Just don't die young, Fiona," one guy yelled from the crowd, perhaps in
reference to her remarks in this month's SPIN, where she said that she'd
like to cut another album, do good things for humanity and die.
"You know, I'm
so glad you brought that up," she said. "People cannot take sarcasm. They think
I mean every single thing I say. Take a joke. Lighten up."
Closing with "The Child Is Gone," Apple once again showcased herself, with a
vocal and piano performance that brought the capacity crowd to its feet.
In a meet and greet afterwards, the young star seemed exhausted, but perked
up at the sight of boyfriend David Blain, the acclaimed magician who appears
alongside Apple in a photo accompanying the SPIN article. She happily
signed autographs and took pictures. Visibly exhausted but edgy nevertheless,
she at last retreated to an outside hallway.
Through it all, there was no sign of a snotty temptress or waifish, ungrateful bitch
anywhere to be found -- just a young, mixed up and incredibly talented woman,
with a passion for music and the potential to make a difference.
Color="#720418">[Fri., Oct. 17, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]