Fiona Apple at the Palladium: Concert Review

Kyleen James
The beloved singer-songwriter puts her band first in a balanced performance of old and new.

The beloved singer-songwriter shuns the spotlight by putting her band first in a balanced performance of old and new in her adopted hometown.

In many ways, a Fiona Apple concert is as much about the singer’s musicians as who's standing -- or sitting -- at center stage. Sure, fans poured into Hollywood’s Palladium on Sunday night with their sights set on Apple running through the best of her angst-ridden catalog, but the controversial musician tailored the performance to be a collaborative effort, one that pulled her backing band into the spotlight.

Indeed, instead of booking an opening act, Apple had her guitarist Blake Mills in the warmup slot, accompanied by the same musicians who would later play with her. Although Mills is a compelling guitarist -- as evidenced later in the evening -- his opening set felt like that of a backing band: turned down, shoved into the background and functioning as little more than a supplement to the cacophony that was the crowd's conversation. But Mills and company’s real skills were showcased during the headlining performance, which kicked off 30 minutes late. Apple, who came onstage waving around a blue scarf, simply explained: “I'm sorry I was late. I don't really have a good excuse. I was just nervous.”

PHOTOS: Broadway Musicals Have Sung Their Way to the Big Screen

The singer’s stage fright didn’t show, however, as she frontloaded her setlist with old favorites, moving from “Fast as You Can” to “On the Bound,” both from 1999’s When the Pawn…, an album that was significantly showcased Sunday night. Apple’s multiplatinum 1996 debut, Tidal, also was represented throughout, urging cheers from the crowd when the musicians made a rousing performance out of “Shadowboxer” and transformed “Sleep to Dream” into a full-on rock number, complete with Mills’ noodling guitar solos.

Apple clearly knows her audience -- the throngs of fans have grown up with her, as evidenced by the apparent dearth of teenagers in the crowd -- and she understands that in order to perform new tracks, specifically those off her recent album The Idler Wheel …, it's best to pad them with numbers that have personal significance to those who shelled out their hard-earned dollars for a ticket. But while the crowd is eager to experience the musician’s inner turmoil, whether she’s willing to relive the agony of her past is less clear. That makes songs like “Every Single Night,” a track from the new disc, particularly poignant as Apple wailed, “I just wanna feel everything.”

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

And while it’s compelling to watch Apple’s backing band evolve her piano-driven numbers into the equivalent of arena rock anthems, the greatest moments in her performance came from just that: feeling everything. The evident highlight was “Extraordinary Machine,” the title track from Apple’s 2005 album, on which her musicians stepped back and allowed the singer’s voice to stand, solitary, in the spotlight.

It was in these moments that diehard followers were reminded why they’ve stuck by Apple for so long, and certainly why they waited with such patient anticipation while she spent seven years making her fourth album. Apple is the sort of artist who doesn’t just insert feeling flippantly and then walk away. The emotive quality is ever-present in her music, even decades later, making it possible for a fan to resurrect his or her inner teenager just by listening. But the singer, who received several cries of “I love you, Fiona!” throughout the evening, is clearly uncomfortable as the driving force of mass emotion, which is perhaps why her show Sunday night was, for the most part, a rock concert. No wonder Apple took a moment between songs to whisper into the microphone, “Everybody should be in a band.” 

Set list:

Fast as You Can
On the Bound
Paper Bag
Anything We Want
Get Gone
Sleep to Dream
Extraordinary Machine
Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)
I Know
Every Single Night
Not About Love


It's Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)

Twitter: @THRMusic