Fiona Apple and Blake Mills “Anything We Want” Tour at Zellerbach Hall

10/10/2013

It’s 1996–I’m twelve–slipping poems through the slits of my crush’s locker. She returns the favor. This continues until I finally work up the courage to tell her I like her and she tells me we’re friends. I am crushed.

If the formative years of puberty aren’t trying enough, certainly rejection is the just ingredient for a cake of self-misery. From Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet to Sneaker Pimp’s “6 Underground,” ’96 was shadowed by heartache for me. Tidal couldn’t have come at better time. The then-17-years-old Fiona Apple’s dark and sultry collection of songs became the soundtrack to my wallowing sadness.

Seventeen years later–and I can’t imagine going through that pain again. And while my pain was just my own, I always thought I sympathized with Fiona. When I listened to Tidal (and later When the Pawn…) and her voice bellowed,  I imagine she wrote this song after uprooting everything around her. And then almost schizophrenically, she took a sultry tone, like a femme fatale knowing too well that love is like a dull knife tearing at you.

“Heaven help me
For the way I am
Save me from
These evil deeds
Before I get them done
I know tomorrow brings
The consequence at hand
But I keep livin’ this day like
The next will never come”

-Fiona Apple “Criminal”

As I grew older–the pain subsided—as did my heavy listening of Fiona. But I was reminded of it all, as I watched her perform last night with Blake Mills for their “Anything We Want” tour. While I was completely oblivious to the tabloids around her weight, her gaunt appearance was glaring. Before she began her set, Apple took to the stage to denounce the “kunt” (she joked it should be spelled with a ‘k’) that heckled her saying “Fiona! Get healthy! We want to see you in 10 years!” during her tour kickoff show in Portland a week earlier. I don’t want to be critical of her weight (as she’s always been slender), nor am I trying to support the rude fan, but her appearance cannot be completely ignored. It appears her pain hasn’t subsided.

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Photographs by Victoria Smith

But if you closed your eyes–you’d never know it. From “First Taste” to “Every Single Night” Apple’s performance was magical. She belted tenaciously with drawn out, fluttering sequences that confidently showed off her vocal range. Songs were re-imagined, like “Dull Tool,” chaotically breaking with a bridge of frantic drumming, or, the subdued “Waltz (Better Than Fine)” featuring Mills’ subtle mastery of slide guitar. It was a treat of familiar songs that were made unfamiliar as Mills pointed out.

After the third track, Mills and Apple would alternate leads. Though I was unfamiliar with Mills’ work, it was easy to get lost in his guitar playing. From carefully plucking strings and providing unreal dynamics, to ending solos by twisting the tuners out of tune, simply for the effect, Mills was on a different level.

During lulls between songs fans cheered “We love you Fiona! You’re amazing!”– breaking the seemingly tense air of disbelief. In part, this was likely due to Apple’s appearance, but also out of concern that she seemed unstable. There were several moments–like when she rocked back and forth over a chest full of percussion instruments–when she seemed high. But the cheering seemed to work. She smiled and tried to engage Mills with jokes: “Wouldn’t it be funny if someone tried to fake playing piano like lip synching? I mean, not lip synch, but played a fake piano. I guess they’d have to know the keys to fake it though.”

Unfortunately, those 10 minutes in Portland will probably loom over this tour. It’s a shame because Apple seems as sharp, musically, as ever. But as I look through Victoria’s photos, I can’t help but wonder what Apple is going through. I can’t imagine the pain she’s already endured and continues to battle. I wish her the best.

Photographs by Victoria Smith