Fiona Apple got a warm welcome back to her native city last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Born in New York City in the fall of 1977, her last live show here dated back to December 2005, so fans —most of whom, we’re assuming, probably didn’t see her performances at SXSW last week— were exploding with emotion as the lights dimmed. She came onstage to deafening cheers, her hair in a simple ponytail, wearing a bright green camisole cinched with a silver-y belt that hung stylishly in a bow at her side. She declared that she had two things to say:
1) She missed her dog Janet, so her friend had made her a cardboard cutout of her canine pal that she could bring with her on stage.
2) Even though she wouldn’t hear anyone chatting away during the show, she suspected other folks in the crowd wouldn’t appreciate any loud talkers.
(On the second point, there would be little to worry about. The crowd hung on her every lyric last night. Talkers? No. But there were plenty of participants, as the set would veer into a full-fledged sing-along at several moments during the hour-long show.)
With that business taken care of, she smiled and said, “Just be nice, be good, and I will give you everything I can possibly give you.” The band then launched into “Fast As You Can” as Fiona started twitching away behind the microphone.
The set featured a total of 12 songs, eight of which were from her past albums — though she performed only the title track from Extraordinary Machine, which elicited some of the loudest hoots and hollers when she arrived at the chorus and sang, “I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine.”
She slipped in three songs from her forthcoming album, The Idler Wheel…, all without any fanfare or introductions. For “Anything We Want,” she pulled out a metal baton and an odd, hose-shaped instrument resembling a H. R. Giger-designed snorkeling mask on which she tapped away in percussive spurts. That song, and the one that followed it (“Valentine,” also a new track) were both fairly stripped down affairs, with a stand-up bass lending rhythmic structure. Both are ostensibly love songs, the first featuring lines such as “Let’s pretend we’re 8 years old playing hooky / I’ll draw on the wall and you can play UFC rookie / Then we’ll grow up, take our clothes off and you remind me that I wanted you to / Kiss me when we find some time alone.”
She performed “Valentine” at the piano, an exquisite little song, heartfelt and emotional. “I root for you, I love you,” she repeated throughout. It was one of only two songs she did behind the piano.
Otherwise, she stood at the mic, almost defiant, performing the entirety of “Sleep to Dream,” for instance, with her hands clasped tightly at her hips. Her band lent songs such as “Criminal” and “On the Bound” added muscle with expanded guitar arrangements and occasional solos. While her band riffed, she playfully chicken-danced around the stage (and I describe that truly with the utmost affection).
The last new song she played was “Every Single Night,” probably the least accessible song of the set. It led into a rousing rendition of “Carrion,” its inherent dramatic structure heightened by a booming chorus and an incredibly emotionally wrought performance.
The set closed with a little gift for the hometown crowd. She added a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “It’s Only Make-Believe” to her set. It was Fiona at her charming and disarming best, coaxing the song out, and ending with a sly, shy smile curling the edges of her lips as the crowd erupted in delight.
The house lights came up, and for at least five minutes, no one in the crowd budged. Fans were screaming, whistling, stomping away, and for a moment it seemed like they may have coaxed her back from her dressing room. But then the music on the PA came up (“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong), and fans poured out of the venue still elated by Fiona Apple’s long-awaited return to the New York stage.
“Fast as You Can” / “On the Bound” / “Paper Bag” / “Mistake” / “Anything We Want*” / “Valentine*” / “Sleep to Dream” / “Extraordinary Machine” / “Every Single Night*” / “Carrion” / “Criminal” / “It’s Only Make-Believe”
[Photo: Hilary J. Corts/Instagram]