“Oh my God, did somebody get a picture of that?” the guy next to me hollers. “Preferably on your iPhone?!” Fiona Apple was pacing the stage to enthusiastic applause after wrapping up a smoking performance of “Fast As You Can” and, snark aside, the dude had a point. It was Thursday evening at famed Austin BBQ club Stubbs, NPR’s SXSW showcase, Apple’s big return as a performer, and everybody wanted to capture it for posterity—to the point where the outstretched arms with cameraphone screens obstructed the performer if you were standing in the wrong spot. Certainly this is part of the concertgoing experience in the mobile social media age, but wow. As if Apple wasn’t unnerved enough up there. First show in six years in front of a bunch of music industry bigwigs, no pressure, right?
The good news (for Apple) is she sounded good. Not great; she certainly lapsed into moments, particularly while revisiting songs from her 1996 debut Tidal, where her voice was strained and sloppy, and not in a cool stylized way. Her set closed with a weak rendition of her MTV hit “Criminal,” and by the end, even she seemed over it — pulling out her in-ear monitor and wrapping it up atop her piano while her band vamped out the coda. But when Apple was on, she was on. One of the best moments came from 1999′s When The Pawn—the intense, harrowing “A Mistake”—and the three new numbers she debuted all sound fantastic. Her fourth album is expected…sometime. For now, HuffPo grabed a nice vid of “A Mistake” which you can watch below.