I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Blake Mills. After Fiona Apple finished crawling her way through “Criminal,” she was supposed to go right into Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe,” according to the performed setlist at Music Hall on Friday (Though the actual setlist on Friday listed “Across The Universe,” Apple skipped it.). But Mills had other plans, and as Apple stopped to catch her breath, Mills, her touring guitarist, started to play the opening notes of Apple’s Beatles cover. She shot Mills a death stare, dropped to her knees and begged him to stop. It was an uncomfortable moment, with Apple doing this mix of groveling and threatening, Mills throwing back his head and laughing, and the audience members wondering nervously if this would trigger Apple to abruptly end the night. But she got up, said something about torturing Mills later and sang it in her honeyed alto anyway.
Apple was last to take the stage at the set’s start. Though the lights were still low, you could see her sneaking squirrel-like among her band members; her small stature and long, swinging ponytail gave her away, even in the shadows. The lights came up, and Apple shot into “Fast As You Can,” flailing her arms and forcefully spitting out lyrics like they were leaving a bad taste in her mouth. Apple played piano on some songs, but she mostly stood at the front-and-center mic. For such an articulate singer, Apple was a nervous wreck when talking, mumbling something after her first song about trying not to take six songs to finally calm down.
“Welcome home!” cried out a guy in the crowd.
“Thank you,” she replied. “That helped.”
Apple’s set spanned all three of her albums, and many in the sold-out crowd knew every word, the loudest singalongs taking place on tracks from Tidal, her debut album. But unlike the Apple of 1996, she now sings those classics with more character in her jazz-influenced voice. There’s an added grit, a welcome weathering that makes her seem less coquettish and more conquering. The vibrato she put into her sustained notes on “Sleep To Dream” was so powerful and rattling that it was like listening to Edith Piaf.
Apple played three new songs—”Anything We Want,” “Valentine” and “Every Single Night”—all of which blended right into her older material. While the dark melodies of the latter two suggested that they came from a wounded place, “Anything We Want” was relatively sprightly and innocent. The buoyant, optimistic chorus of “And then/We can/Do anything/We want” solidified it as the biggest hit of the trio.
Apple’s smoothly sung rendition of “Across The Universe” would have been enough to end the show on a strong note, but her cover of Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” put things over the edge. The country ballad gave Apple a place to belt and Mills the room to slide his electric guitar notes across the room. Full-voiced and controlled while singing, she sounded like a different person when she quickly piped, “Thank you, home,” at the end of the set, a nod to her native Manhattan.
Videos of “Across The Universe” and “It’s Only Make Believe” via Adam Gorode
01. Fast As You Can
02. On The Bound
03. Paper Bag
04. A Mistake
05. Anything We Want
07. Sleep To Dream
08. Extraordinary Machine
09. Every Single Night
12. Across The Universe
13. It’s Only Make Believe