All 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.