Standing five heads back from the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last Friday, I couldn’t help but reel over what I was experiencing. Fiona Apple graced the New York stage for the first time in six years and we were all witness to her rarity – like a strange bird that only flies through town once per decade. In retrospection, my mind is still exploding: A short-but-oh-so-sweet set mixed with older, beloved tracks and new hits-to-be, intensely delivered by a tortured artist bleeding her frustrations, anger, love, art and soul all over us.
As the sold out room waited in anticipation, Fiona took the stage at 9:45p.m. exactly. She nervously puttered up to the mic, looking a mess, and telling us she missed her dog. She discouraged some talkers in the crowd, and then promised that if we behaved, “I will give you everything I can possibly give you.” The next hour would then clue us in to just how sincere this statement really was.
Opening with an energetic and tight “Fast As You Can,” Apple worked out on-stage jitters through gritting teeth and clenched fists, setting the tone for the rest of the evening. Though a true professional, Apple’s body language sometimes spoke just as much as her words as she wiggled, writhed and danced, only to later seek shelter behind her piano to wait out the band’s final notes (she only sat at the piano twice, one of which was for new-track “Valentine,” a slower, piano-driven melody off the upcoming The Idler Wheel…)
Apple’s vocal control is unparalleled – her shaky vibrato is seemingly unbridled, but in reality, Apple maintains full control. As each song bled into the next, the emotion of each of those tracks lingered and snowballed for Apple on stage, as if she was re-experiencing the very moments in which the tunes were written. “Sleep to Dream” hit us fast and hard, raising the performance’s edge; during “Paper Bag,” her eyes were closed as she clutched her arms toward her chest, letting them uncertainly hang between herself and the audience.
Emotion exuded off of Apple throughout, slapping innocent bystanders in the face along the way. As the cheers grew louder and louder, Apple’s confidence rose higher, igniting the fervid atmosphere. Before we knew it, in one short hour, Fiona was finished. The crowd raised hell, more than earning an encore, yet Apple called it a night. Hopefully, her current mini-tour is just the tip of what’s to come, as the set’s lack of “Shadowboxer” was crushing for this writer.
Finally seeing Ms. Apple after well over a decade of fandom was incredibly surreal, yet almost exactly as anticipated. Her nervous ticks and rapid-fire banters may have led the way, but by show’s end, the crowd thanked her for all that she had given, showering her with love for her passion and dedication. Even with a new album on the horizon, this conflicted soul could walk away from the spotlight and the piano keys at any moment, and we all knew it. This realization made the experience at the Music Hall of Williamsburg even that much more special.
Check out a new track. Here’s “Anything We Want” – filmed at Bowery Ballroom on Monday: