Fiona Apple last night at the Lyric
The Lyric Opera House is a pretty snazzy place for a rock show – even a sorta non-rock rock show like a Fiona Apple show. Previous to this I’d seen Fiddler on the Roof and a John Waters Christmas show there. The only rock show I’d seen there was a gig by Milkshake, the kid-rock band my boys love. The high ceilings, ornate mosaics and sculptures, and velvet seats were clearly intended for, you know, a different purpose – but since that didn’t work out – looks like more Milkshake and Fiona Apple for the time being.
Which is fine, really. I’m at the age, sadly, when I enjoy sitting down during a rock show (or at least during a non-rock rock show). And the acoustics and lighting are far superior than anything you’ll get at, say, Sonar. Fiona herself described the space as “cavernous,” and went on to suggest “we’re all spelunkers!” in that 60% cute, 30% annoying, 10% unhinged way she generally has about her.
But before I get to Fiona Apple – yeah, I guess it’s gonna be a long post. sorry. – I have to mention the opening act. No opening act was announced, at least not to me, so soon after 8 p.m., when the lights dimmed and two straggly dudes walked on stage and sat down, there was disappointment, at least from me. The two, guitarist Blake Mills and bassist Sebastian Steinberg (formerly of Soul Coughing, if that means something to you) seemed to sense our or my disappointment and apologized for having to play a half hour before Fiona came onstage. “Let’s just try to get through it,” Mills said, gamely.
Their humility and good will got me through maybe two songs of the Most Boring Half Hour of My Life. These painfully slow country-tinged ballads full of gratuitous cursing (the chorus of one of the most endless dirges was, I believe, “I fucked up/ I fucked up/ I fucked up/ I fucked up” X16). By the time they announced that their next song was “Half Asleep,” I laughed out loud. They followed that up with, I shit you not, “Don’t Tell Your Friends About Me.” Done. Well, sorta. Sorry guys.
Anyway, that did end, and with a Joe Tex cover, so that was a little better. Fiona came out and launched into “Fast as You Can” from 1996′s When the Pawn… The set was roughly chronological, so it wasn’t until eight songs in that she got to “Extraordinary Machine,” the set’s first cut from the 2005 album of the same name – one of my favorite albums of the last ten years. She only did three songs from the album, which was a disappointment, at least to me, but she went to town on “Not About Love,” one of my favorites. If you haven’t before please take a minute to watch the song’s incredible, hilarious video, starring Zach Galifinakis.
One of the highlights of a Fiona Apple show is watching tiny Fiona Apple pound away at a baby grand with great grace, power, and precision. Seriously, she gets a rumbling, bluesy power out of those keys with ease in a way that demonstrates real mastery. There’s also her voice, at once very fragile and incredibly bold. I love the moments when she allows her lilting tremulo to turn into a wild bark, as on “It’s not about love/ I am not in love.” It’s dialed back on the album, but live she really lets it loose, and it’s something to behold.
One more thing: I’m really tired of Baltimore’s dumb inferiority complex. Twice during the show, people yelled out “Thanks for coming to Baltimore,” to great applause, as if it was some act of charity on Fiona’s behalf and not the fact that our little town here can fill a beautiful theater with fantastic acoustics for a second-tier (sorry, hon) act like her. Even worse, someone yelled out down the stretch, “Thanks for not going to D.C.!” to even greater applause. Ugh. Fuck D.C. Even massive headliners that you probably don’t want to see, like U2, Jay-Z, and Bruce Springsteen have been to Baltimore in the last year of two. We don’t need to be down on our knees to Fiona Apple for stopping in town to put on a great show and make a lot of money. It’s a win-win. And it’s how things work.