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Fiona Apple and Blake Mills give a moving performance at The Merriam Theater

Fiona Apple and Blake Mills | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.comAll photos by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

Raw. Spare. Explosive. Transcendent. These are four words that come to mind when recalling the Fiona Apple and Blake Mills concert on Saturday night at the Merriam Theatre. Apple and her jazz-inflected vocals full of smoke and fire as paired with the guitar virtuoso Mills, who shifted from strains of classical to folk, country and blues, were a lustful symbiosis on stage. This is best exemplified in their new song “I Want You to Love Me,” with Apple tapping away at the piano while declaring her desires and Mills sitting on the other side of the stage, countering her keys with his strings. The song builds layer after layer of discord and harmony with these elements up to a frenzied crescendo. It was electrifying.

This electrical pulse flowed throughout their “Anything We Want” show, which is what they nicknamed the tour in honor of a song they do together and their attitude overall. If anyone hoped to get Apple’s bona fide hits like “Criminal,” they would have been disappointed. At this show, the new was on display — not just in content, but also in sound as the reliance on another voice for duets like the show’s opener, “Tipple.” The very simple staging with Apple and Mills bathed in white light while their accompanying percussionist (Barbara Gruska) and bass player (Sebastian Steinberg) were in the shadows of reds and blues also added a sense of intimacy that was given even more gravitas with the surroundings of a glorious 95-year-old theater in the Merriam.

After 2012’s masterful The Idler Wheel, Apple shows that her emotive palate is blossoming into a voice that is both ageless and inventive. And for a critic like myself, it is awesome to see how she has kept the magic evident on her debut Tidal woven into her recorded and live work. This critic first saw her promoting that album in 1997 at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., in a theater steeped in history with herself and her piano at the forefront. Now she has opened up to even greater possibilities, as evidenced with her duets on songs with even a country heart — “Seven.”

The 90-minute show flew by with an audience rapt and full of love, showering her with flowers and reverent claps that echoed throughout the hallowed hall. It began with her unexpectedly writing on a chalkboard “Teach me how to be free, teach me how.” And despite her lack of direct interactions with the audience, beyond asking which of the three merch shirts they had she should don, picking up a bouquet of flowers left for her that she then cradled, and a few words before their finale of “Waltz (Better Than Fine),” she spoke with her music — a voice unlike any other not afraid to use her neck as percussion or her piano as a channel for the emotions that drive humans — love, lust, hate, regret and beyond.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Fiona Apple and Blake Mills at Merriam Theater, Oldermost at Boot & Saddle, Lee Fields and the Expressions at Arden Gild Hall and more

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Fiona Apple and singer/songwriter Blake Mills bring their collaborative Anything We Want tour to Merriam theater tonight. Apple’s sultry vocals and damaged goods attitude should combine well with the innovative guitar stylings of Mills. The pair will unite on songs as well as perform their own individual music. Get tickets and more information on the show here.

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Just Announced: Fiona Apple and Blake Mills playing the Merriam Theater on 10/19

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Fiona Apple and Blake Mills are changing things up a bit with a collaborative fall tour that stops in Philly at the Merriam Theater on October 19th.  Details are few and far between as the exact nature of the show is still in the planning stages, but they were asked to share a few hints:

1) We were sent an assignment to write three or four sentences.

2) These sentences should communicate that we, Fiona Apple & Blake Mills (that’s us), are doing a little tour as a duo.

3) We know it’ll be something special, and we aren’t being coy here — it’s just that we have about 26% of an idea of what the fuck we will be playing for you.


4) It was our understanding that the 4th sentence was optional, but here is something that is true: the uncertainty excites us.

While Fiona Apple continues to tour behind last year’s Idler Wheel…, former Simon Dawes (now Dawes) member and highly-sought-after collaborator Blake Mills will release his as-yet untitled sophomore solo record next year.  Together in concert, Apple and Mills will perform material from their respective catalogs as well as new songs written together.  Tickets for “Anything We Want: An Evening with Fiona Apple & Blake Mills” at the Merriam Theater on October 19th go on sale August 2nd; more information will be available here.  Below, watch Fiona Apple’s video for “Hot Knife” and Blake Mills’ video for “Don’t Tell Your Friends About Me.”

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