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Last Thursday in Portland, the opening date of Fiona Apple ‘s “Anything We Want ” tour with collaborator Blake Mills was derailed by a heckler who urged the singer to “get healthy. ” The incident prompted Apple to offer an interview response affirming her wellness, essentially forcing her to defend something that never really warranted a defense to begin with. Following Monday evening ‘s performance by Apple and Mills at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, several audience members remarked on how Apple seemed “better than expected, ” as if they assumed she would fly off the rails at any disturbance in the crowd. It ‘s unfortunate that the barometer for a show ‘s success from a notoriously emotional singer like Apple (or, for instance, Cat Power) is contingent not on the actual merit of a performance but on whether or not something goes awry.
The concert, which drew Apple ‘s longtime guitarist Mills into the spotlight beside her, was a far cry from the recent shows Apple has played in support of 2012 ‘s The Idler Wheel… The duo tossed traditionalism out the window, something Apple made clear from the outset. “Now that we ‘re here, I just feel like taking the most risks, ” she told the polite and generally silent audience before scrawling “TEACH TEACH ME HOW ME HOW TO BE FREE ” across the classroom blackboard onstage.
Apple also brought several items “from her hotel room ” to aid in the performance, pulling a glass wine decanter, wooden sticks and a cutting board, which she hauled from a plastic storage bin throughout the evening. She bounded around the stage with childlike enthusiasm as she and Mills offered a bizarrely drawn set list featuring both their works. Mills, who is presently working on a solo album, used the opportunity to perform new material, including a number called “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Us, ” to which Apple apparently recently added her own verse.
The focus was notably not on Apple ‘s beloved catalog, although she offered rearranged renditions of favorites like “The First Taste ” and “Left Alone ” and performed several songs off The Idler Wheel… It was clear immediately that this particular tour is an exercise in collaboration, an experiment of sorts about how two artists can create a cohesive stage experience with the merging of two sets of music. The best moments arrived as Apple and Mills found themselves in sync, her gazing at him while seated on the floor of the stage, responding to each twang of his guitar with sincere emotion. There were a few instances where the pairing was more awkward than cooperative, spawning comments from bassist Sebastian Steinberg about their back-and-forth bickering. “It ‘s like this all day every day, ” he noted at one point. (Rounding out the band was the Belle Brigade’s Barbara Gruska on drums.)
Toward the end of the performance, which lasted less than two hours and eschewed an encore, one audience member began to call out song requests. “You can call them out, but the future is prewritten, ” Mills said. Apple responded by saying that sometimes we have things we need to get off our chests, recounting a bad review her father, actor Brandon Maggart, got from film critic Rex Reed years ago. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, ” Apple said. “Daddy, this is for you. Rex Reed: You’re a c–t. “
It wasn ‘t quite the tirade it will likely be made out to be, however. The remark, rather, was an aside in an otherwise strangely evocative performance from two musicians who seem to still be feeling each other out. There was a sense of anti-climax as Apple and Mills concluded with “Waltz (Better Than Fine), ” an abrupt conclusion to a collection of songs that appeared sometimes to require more of a dramatic arc in its presentation. The audience, though seemingly perplexed by the performance as they exited the theater, offered the musicians a standing ovation. “Shit, ” Apple said. “Thank you a lot. “
It was what no one expected, which is perhaps a compliment to Apple ‘s skill as a mutable performer after all these years and to the power of her union with Mills. Fans shouldn ‘t be waiting for her next reactionary incident as this tour unfolds, but instead bearing witness to the musical evolution inspired by her guitarist.
Tipple (new song co-written by Blake Mills)
The First Taste
Every Single Night
Unworthy (Blake Mills)
Anything We Want
It’ll All Work Out
I Want You To Love Me (new song)
It’s Only Make-Believe (Conway Twitty cover)
Seven (duet with Blake Mills)
Don’t Tell Our Friends About Us (Blake Mills)
Waltz (Better Than Fine)
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