SXSW 2012: Fiona Apple Performs With More Confidence, Less Angst

The singer-songwriter landed in Austin super-prepared in her first big show since 2007.

Rumors of Fiona Apple's comeback have been greatly exaggerated.

That's not to say that the chanteuse – who performed Wednesday at Stubbs in her first performance at South By Southwest – was in anything less than comeback mode, fully confident belting both new songs and hits like "Criminal" with her hair pulled back in a ponytail to expose her angular face, shimmying expressively both behind a piano and standing at the front of the big stage. But, though she hasn't performed a large show since 2007, it's not as if she's been totally in-hiding: occasional drop-ins at Los Angeles club Largo At The Coronet have been ongoing, ramping up speed in the build-up to this performance.

During her '90s heyday, Apple was known for erratic, approaching-trainwreck performances, and no doubt some in the packed outdoor space were disappointed when the Apple that showed up at Stubbs was far from a wreck – clearly prepared, clearly excited to be there, and clearly working with a crack band, who veered from jazz-influenced upright-bass riffing to full-on rock mode, sometimes within the same songs, including a percussion-driven new number with the refrain "I kept ditching my love," which Apple sang with a wide, rare smile on her face.

PHOTOS: The Scene At SXSW 2012

Still petite, but looking fit in a lingerie-ish black lace top, even Apple's most angsty songs've taken on some growth over the years. Now, when Apple croons "Sleep To Dream," her lushness feels raw – maybe it's Malboros or maybe it's maturity, but either way it feels like it's coming from her gut. That intensity can be misconstrued by some as missed notes, and certainly some of the audience winced when Apple reached inside and growled, but though those kind of sonics may be something of an acquired taste, they resonated deliciously.

The three new songs debuted (from her forthcoming album, reportedly, modestly titled, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do, veered between introspective and cathartic, all fitting squarely in Apple's small canon even when they sounded influenced by more out-there current artists like tUnE-yArDs.

"This has been fun!" Apple exclaimed, at the end of the show – a promising sign for fans hoping for a comeback in full, rather than a series of pop-ups.