Fiona's misery rants undercut, overpowered



December 6, 2005

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

Fiona's misery rants undercut, overpowered



December 6, 2005

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

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 chirped.

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 about.

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 "Extraordinary Machine."

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 plain schizophrenic.

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 differently).

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.