This show was part pilgrimage, because I had never seen Fiona Apple play live before, and part penance, for largely the same reason.
The show started with music from her band, led by Blake Mills, who sang some of his delicately lovely pop songs and put on something of a master class in the fine art of the electric guitar:
Here is what I learned, about Fiona Apple‘s shows: every single one of them is a cage match between the spirit of rock n’ roll and her demons. She does not so much sing a song as conduct a jazz cabaret-inflected exorcism.
It’s incredible and intense; I actually spent several long stretches standing mostly still, eyes closed, just letting the chords bounce and crash around my head while her voice – her big, brazen, smokey, flexible, magnificent voice – washed over me.
I am, as usual, completely useless with things like set lists. I recognized several from The Idler Wheel, including Every Single Night, Daredevil, Anything We Want, Left Alone and Fast As You Can, but what really defined the evening for me was the song she didn’t play: Criminal.
I heard some people near me calling out for it, and they were doubtless disappointed when it was not forthcoming. I, on the other hand, was both relieved and pleased. It’s not that I hate the song. It’s that watching the video she made for it – the raw misery on her face – makes me feel sick and sad and wish I had a time machine so I could go back and pull her out and away and give her a blanket and a warm beverage.
And this might be faulty logic, but on some level, its absence from the set list suggests to me that there is at least one demon she’s beaten and one battle she no longer has to fight. That, and the secret triumphant smile she flashed at us as the last notes faded into the woodwork, were the true highlights of the night.