SXSW 2012: Fiona Apple’s Return Reminds The World That She’s A Singular Force Of Nature

by (@unclegrambo)

Fiona Apple Performs Live At The 2012 SXSW Festival

Not even the sun could resist an opportunity to witness Fiona Apple‘s first performance outside of Los Angeles in years.

It was a mostly overcast day in Austin yesterday, Day Two of the music portion of the 2012 South By Southwest Festival. However, as well over a thousand people stood patiently in line in the blocks surrounding Austin’s BBQ landmark Stubb’s, the sun crept out from its hiding spot behind the clouds to watch the singular force of nature that is Fiona Apple. She’s got a new album on the way— the title of which, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do, is probably the hardest thing you’ve had to memorize since college— and descended upon Austin intent on reminding the world why she’s the anti-Adele.

Now, that’s not to slag on Adele or anything that she’s accomplished, but Fiona Apple’s music has never been the kind of easy listening fare that you can throw on the stereo on Sunday morning while you’re making breakfast. The origins of Fiona’s music emanate from a raw, primal place deep within her soul, and when she delivers her work on stage, it’s as if she’s attempting to physically expel all of the physical and mental suffering that she’s experienced: Her body writhes and contorts as she’s singing, her hands tugging at her clothing in an almost unconscious fashion, almost as if she’s possessed. She projects the state of her psyche, past and present, in every song that she sings in such a pure, unfiltered fashion that is impossible to take your eyes off her.

She took the stage at Stubb’s for last night’s NPR Showcase just a few minutes before 8:00 p.m. and launched into “Fast As You Can,” her first single from her 1999 masterwork When The Pawn…. Most performers take a song or two to get into the groove, but Fiona came out of the gate swinging, delivering the song in a raspy fashion that Jules Winfield would describe as “great vengeance and FURIOUS anger.” She then proceeded to growl her way through “You’re All I Need” “On The Bound” before breaking everyone’s heart with an emotive version of “Paper Bag”, in which she confesses “I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up.”

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It was at that point that she addressed the audience for the first time. “You’re imaginary, you’re not real!”, she told the reverential crowd, which made us realize that she probably gets equally worked up during her rehearsal sessions as she does in front of a packed house. Speaking of the audience, their respect for Fiona Apple was palpable; performing in an outdoor venue known for its beer and barbeque, you could hear a pin drop during her 11 song performance.

Her set mixed in hits (“Criminal”, “Sleep To Dream”), some deep cuts (“A Mistake”), and three new songs. Of the new batch, “Every Single Night” (which you can hear below) was a stand-out with its refrain “Every single night’s a fight / But every single fight’s all right / With my brain.”

Her bony, angular frame only serves to reinforce the emotional authenticity of her catalog; when she sings, you can almost feel the calories burning off her body. By the time she worked her way up to “Carrion”, from her 1996 debut album Tidal, she seemed to be physically spent. Her voice had been alternating all night from a raspy scream to a deep contralto, and her haunting line “Honey, I have gone away” took on extra resonance. It was at that point that we realized that Fiona Apple has been away for far too long, but we couldn’t be more excited that she’s back.

[Photos: Getty Images]