Last Wednesday night I was able to go see Fiona Apple supporting her 4th album, the 2nd with a super long title that I won’t bore you with. Suffice to say that the weight of the album title does not weigh down the album itself. While it’s the least accessible Fiona Album record, a few listens reveals it’s greatness. Same could be said when you compare the two times I’ve seen her live – once in 2000 in support of her first superbly longly titled album and again last week. Her early show was at face value a great show, one of the best I’ve ever seen, this last one, while great, didn’t grab me right away. Fiona came on the scene with her debut album “Tidal” and the hit “Shadowboxer” which had that almost trip hop feel to it. Sultry, jazzy beats over aggressive lyrics, it was a huge hit at the time and seduced me right away. I re-listened to that album a few times recently and had forgotten how many great songs there are, it still holds up. It’s a unique record for her now, while she still makes great and accessible songs, none have been as big as they were on that record and she’s focused more on the jazz than the trip hop.
Which has been fine by me. Her 2nd album is a triumph. Intricate lyrics supported by hooky jazz, it’s impossible not to love it. She was supporting that album when I saw her with my friend Kelly in 2000 at the Orpheum in Boston. I think it was one of the first times I bought tickets from a broker, I was willing to pay top dollar for that one. It was worth it, we had great seats on the floor, super close. At the time stories of Fiona’s live melt downs were legendary, but there was none of that this time. I remember her spending most of her time at the piano facing back towards the band and belting out tune after tune. It was awesome.
It was all that crisp, trip hoppy stuff from the first record and that breakbeat Jazz from the 2nd. All supported by lyrics that she clearly pours everything into. It’s a big reason as to why I like Fiona Apple so much, she is smearing her heart onto the lyric sheet. She does more than wear it on her sleeve. You know that she’s felt what she’s writing about deeply and it translates into songs that are gut wrenching in their lyricism, accompanies my simple, searing Jazz scores.
Her 3rd record, out 6 years after the first (I think she either waits that long to accumulate enough worthy experience to write the kinds of rich stories she builds into her songs or she agonizes for that long over every album detail, maybe a bit of both) – Extraordinary Machine – delivered on a similar Jazzy feel, but was a bit less approachable. Her lyrics are always standofish, but the music was more jarring as well. It took a few extra listens to realize that it too was an amazing record full of deep cuts. Rumors at the time were that the record was reformulated at the insistence of the record company as the first version she submitted was too avant garde for their taste. I’ve not listened to the original version that I hear is available, but you can find the full story of its development here. Great early story of the democratization of the internet and the ability of fans to pressure the record company to do the right thing.
Then, another long hiatus – 7 years this time. Fiona released her 4th album, and the 2nd since “When the Pawn…” with one of those long titles. This one required the most patience and perseverance to come to terms with. Each album she releases requires more of my attention to get wrapped around, but it does always eventually happen. Maybe that’s as good example of what it means to know her, she’s challenging. That’s certainly evident from her lyrics.
I wasn’t sure I was ever going to like the new album. But consistent listening reveals its genius. At first, the albums seems to be too experimental, but those jazzy hooks we have come to rely on from her reveal themselves soon enough. I’ve come to love the record and find it reverberating in my head long after I’ve listened to it. There are many great tracks on it and I recommend it to anyone who likes the genre or has ever been a Fiona fan. Give it a chance, or 3 or 6 chances.
So, with all of this history and the memory of her first show coming back to me, I was very excited to have a chance to see her again. My friend Emily and I arrived at the Paramount just as the lights had gone down and the crowd cheered her pending arrival on stage. I don’t think I’ve ever timed the arrival to a show so well. It was another great show, there is no doubt, but I don’t think I could say it was one of the best ever. She played a lot of those intimate songs and was a welcome sight behind the piano carving out songs I’ve been longing to hear live. However, a song like “Shadowboxer” would start along its luxurious path and deliver us along with it and then in the 2nd verse she’d mix it up with a lyrical delivery that was more poetry slam than jazz virtuoso. I’m not one to get bent by a performance that deviates from the record – I don’t need a note for note representation of the album, but when she would start with a nicer representation and then take (IMHO) the air out of the song by changing it up and making it harsher, it was a little disappointing. But, those moments were few and far between. For the most part, those downer-beat songs delivered immense beauty and brought the room into fits of rapture and much hooting and hollering. It was also a welcome sonic-scape to hear her modify her songs to fit the 4 piece band she had, a much more rock than jazz oriented approach than she had the last time.They were great versions of the songs and made for a great show, but I missed the consistent intimacy she gave us in Boston. But, then again, it seems she’s always had a hard time with intimacy. Maybe intimacy isn’t her thing. Then why does she always keep pulling me right in…?
P.S. – Seattle setlist – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/fiona-apple/2012/paramount-theatre-seattle-wa-13dc8125.html