Midway through her set Sunday at a sold-out Riviera Theatre, Fiona Apple
paused to tell the worshipful crowd that she'd been in a miserable mood the
previous evening, kicking things in her hotel room and generally cursing the
rest of humanity.
"Thank you for letting me take it out on you," the brooding chanteuse
There is something sadomasochistic about Apple's relationship with her
adoring fans: She dumps seemingly bottomless wells of bile, vitriol and
misery on them, and they love her for it. Right after that crack, somebody
tossed a big, plushy teddy bear onstage. It perched atop her grand piano
through yet another in the series of "somebody done somebody (namely, me)
wrong songs," which are really the only kind she plays.
God help poor troubled Fiona if she ever finds true love, because she'll
be rendered as mute as that stuffed animal, with nothing left to write
Yes, a lot of great pop music has been made about love gone wrong.
There's nothing inherently bad about the topic -- in the right hands it
never gets old -- and Apple certainly didn't lack conviction as she railed
at her string of errant lovers, either sitting behind her piano (which was
under-amplified all night) or standing at the mike in a brown robe that
evoked a Buddhist monk, or maybe a distaff Anakin Skywalker.
Yes, that's it: Fiona Apple, Jedi Shrew!
The problems stemmed from the fact that Apple's intense and deep-throated
vocal rants about the evil people in the world (namely, her boyfriends) were
often mismatched with the oddly upbeat, slight and insubstantial music
behind her, especially during the songs from her much-hyped third album
Apple is shooting for an eclectic, postmodern mix of Kurt Weill via Tom
Waits and the Vince Guaraldi Trio on the soundtracks of those old "Charlie
Brown" shorts. But too often she winds up with ersatz Carl Stalling, the man
who scored Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes cartoons, and the results are just
Of course, this is a woman whose favorite lyrical phrase is "crazy,"
trailing after only "me" and "I."
The performance also suffered from the fact that Apple was frequently
overpowered by her five-piece band, which included Mike Elizondo, the
producer who replaced Hollywood film scorer Jon Brion after the first and
more over-the-top version of "Extraordinary Machine" was shelved, on bass.
Keyboardists Jebin Bruni and Dave Palmer did their best to imitate the
album's gonzo orchestrations, which got old fast; the most effective tunes
were the most stripped down, including "O Sailor" and "Shadowboxer." The
prime offender during other songs such as "Limp," "Tymps (The Sick in the
Head Song)" and "On the Bound" was drummer Charley Drayton, who tried to
bring an element of Elizondo's hip-hop rhythms into the show -- the producer
is best known as a colleague of Dr. Dre -- but wound up playing with the
ham-fisted clumsiness of a heavy metal band on amateur night.
As a songwriter and vocalist, Apple is more than idiosyncratic enough to
hold our attention sitting solo at the piano, or perhaps with the subtle
accompaniment of a standup bass. In her next incarnation, she should leave
the cartoonish band at home. Then again, maybe she needs all those men
around to keep her primed with the proper amount of hatred and loathing.
Opening the show was the insufferable singer-songwriter David Garza. Like
Apple, his favorite subject is himself, but since he apparently has no
problems with the opposite sex, he mainly sings about the everyday life of
an insufferable singer-songwriter (though he'd surely phrase that
Although his set would have gotten him booed off the stage during
open-mike night at the cheesiest coffeehouse in Madison, Wis., Fiona's fans
ate it up. Kind and forgiving sorts they are, and oh, so willing to indulge
any tantrum, diatribe or opening bozo that Apple cares to inflict on them.