Performing alongside Blake Mills, Fiona Apple‘s tour hit Washington, D.C.’s newly reinvigorated Lincoln Theatre this past weekend. As opposed to a co-headlining tour where one artist headlines one night, and one the next, this is a join effort with front-person duties interchanging between Apple and Mills, with only a drummer and an upright bassist providing support.
Apple and her drummer (Barbara Gruska) take the stage first, rhythmically scrawling on a chalkboard: “TEACH. TEACH ME HOW. TEACH ME HOW to be free.” Even with but four people on stage it appears crowded, holding that aforementioned chalkboard, a grand piano, a giant bass drum (which Apple playfully pounds and strokes), a pile of random maracas and other percussive things which she bangs against her body, a mini-drum kit shared by Mills and Gruska, and his many guitars.
Apple often stands on one leg, pelican-style, adding poignancy to her typically intense emotional delivery and alternately coy and bold vocals. She is mostly open and kind to her fans, smiling while silently reading at a fan letter delivered to stage, and even giggling in between songs.
Ms. Apple requires absolute silence while she performs. Luckily, those who might have once shown up just to hear “Criminal” have long since recognized that she is not a traditional pop artist. Those in attendance are mostly full of adoration and respect, yet, the few whispers and yells are sufficient to make Apple comment that their impertinence was as if she “snuck into your bedroom…when you were about to cum…and vomited all over you.” (Blake’s response: “It takes all kinds.”)
Despite Apple’s crude analogy, the show actually felt very relaxed, even punctuated by affectionate hugs between performers. The setlist was indulgent both for hardcore fans and the performers themselves, but given the tour’s name (“Fiona Apple and Blake Mills: Anything We Want”) it should not have been surprising. Over the course of 100 minutes, the set focuses upon deep tracks, largely skipping Apple’s more well-known tracks. The best songs are those that Apple and Mills perform jointly, synergistic and moving as their voices alternately mesh and bounce off each other. His J.Crew boy-next-door look stands in stark contrast to her slight, hippy-meets-hipster appearance, his strength and solidity a bulwark to the shy girl exposing her soul (and her arms) to the world.
This is the last night of their tour, and Apple mentions she probably won’t be touring again for a while. It’s no secret that she has struggled with fame, the press, and sometimes her audiences. Not to mention a few external life issues. This, though, was a performance of someone comfortable in their own skin, an artist singing songs she loves surrounded by people who love her. As the set concluded with “Better Than Fine,” it was clear that she meant it.
Photos: Katherine Gaines