Concert Review: Fiona Apple and Blake Mills, October 17, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Fiona Apple - Toronto - Sound Academy
(photo taken off flickr of another show, but whatevs)

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Fiona Apple has been in the music business for 20 years. The singer’s personal foibles often precede her truly stellar talents and after 20 years, she has never seemed all that comfortable or at ease in the spotlight. After her extended hiatuses between records, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if she chose to disappear into anonymity – though it would be saddening for her fans, and the musical climate in general.

Her Anything We Want tour, co-headlining with Blake Mill, gave the impression of a carefree atmosphere – a promise of the musicians doing “anything they wanted” and perhaps an unconventional format as concerts go.

There were some unconventional aspects – there was no supporting act and the setlist featured the co-headliners taking turns playing songs (as opposed to each artist doing consecutive sets of equal length). As for an air of unpredictability – there was none. A quick setlist search online reveals that most of the tour has stuck to the exact same set of songs, same order.

But the unpredictability itself lies in Fiona Apple, the performer. She seemed to be in mostly good spirits on Thursday at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Visibly jittery at times, she would thank the audience after most songs, but reserved her interactions with Mills. At times, she would simply make an offhand comment, mostly to herself but still audible to everyone, then punctuate it with a nervous laugh. The audience, while appreciative and generous in their applause and cheers, seemed cautious in not being too forceful, as to not scare the singer away.

The set opened with “Tipple” – a collaborative, rootsy new song between Apple and Mills. The show began with Apple and drummer Barbara Gruska writing on a chalkboard in unison, the tapping chalk sounding like percussion – “Teach me to be free.”

Mills – an undeniably talented guitarist – captivated both the audience and Apple. She seemed to lose herself in his songs – some of which she’d accompany on bass drum, piano or vocals. His songs were lyrically weaker than Apple’s intricate ones, especially noticeable when sandwiched between her songs. The most enjoyable selections were the collaborative vocal efforts.

Highlights of the set included new song “I Want You to Love Me,” “Dull Tool,” soulful Conway Twitty cover “It’s Only Make Believe,” and the haunting and heartbreaking “I Know.” Apple’s voice was always on point: powerful and full of emotion.

The show closed (encore-less) with “Waltz (Better Than Fine).” The way Apple swayed and smiled while singing, I was mostly convinced that she was indeed “Better than fine.”

Here’s a song

Posted on by Wini Lo in Concerts