“I’m either so sick in the head / I need to be bled dry to quit / Or I just really used to love him,” Fiona Apple sang to a nearly sold-out Midland theater Tuesday night.
The song is called “Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song),” and it was part of a 90-minute show that was something of an emotional blood-letting itself: the sights and sounds of a woman issuing naked expressions of love, pain and regret, but typically with an air of defiance and strength.
Apple is touring on her latest album and her first in nearly seven years. Never one for cliche or platitude, she titled it, “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.” She would perform four of its tracks, not even a quarter of her set list.
She was accompanied by a four-piece band that included guitar wiz Blake Mills, the show’s opening act. Throughout the night, they stirred up whatever mood was necessary, often shifting dynamics dramatically within a song, from loud and stormy to eerily still. Most of the night, however, the sound mix was off, and Apple’s lyrics were either tough to discern or nearly lost in the heavy sounds around her.
They opened with “Fast As You Can,” a blast of rock-blues turbulence in which the singer advises her lover “Run-free yourself of me” and then warns him: “I’ll soon grow hungry for a fight / and I will not let you win.”
Love in her world is a battlefield, and if you’re not gathering wounds, you’re not playing right. Apple came into the music world in the mid-1990s, in the days of Lilith Fair and during the reign of angry, defiant women such as Tracy Bohnam, Meredith Brooks, Alanis Morrissette, Liz Phair. (Apple performed at Sandstone Amphitheater with Lilith Fair on July 14, 1997, almost 15 years ago to the day).
But Apple was of another emotional plane, and it showed in her music and her performances, where she acted out her angst, much like Tori Amos, another peer. Time hasn’t changed that. Tuesday, she was just as animated, at times to the point of weirdness. Twice she ended up on the floor, looking as if she were drawing figures in the sand or looking for a contact lens or her last dime. At the piano and in front of the microphone, she also indulged in some emphatic thrashing, gesticulating and foot stomping, all exaggerated by her mane of hair (which shifted from loose to pony-tailed) and her wiry frame, which is long and a little too lean.
But instead of contrived, her mannerisms seemed like overwrought manifestations of all she was feeling as she issued the weight of her songs.
She didn’t have much to say to the crowd, but when she did it came out excited and addled, like a teenage girl telling friends about a first kiss. Her voice, however, was extraordinary. It covers a wide range, from a gut-bucket roar and growl to a sultry moan to spine-tingling falsetto, as she did during “Extraordinary Machine.”.
Most of the crowd seemed to adore her. They indulged in some of the better moments like “I Know” and “Werewolf.” Another portion seemed to be there only to hear “Shadowboxer,” “Sleep to Dream” and “Criminal,” her best-known songs from her first and best-known album, “Tidal.”. So they talked during half of the show.
She ended with a forlorn cover of “It’s Only Make Believe,” a song about heartache and unrequited love made famous by Conway Twitty. It was one of the quieter moments of the night and in Apple’s hands, another bloodletting that felt anything but make believe.
Setlist: Fast As You Can; On the Bound; Shadowboxer; Paper Bag; Anything We Want; Get Gone; Sleep to Dream; Extraordinary Machine; Werewolf; Tymps; Daredevil; I Know; Every Single Night; Not About Love; Carrion; Criminal; It’s Only Make Believe.
| Timothy Finn, The Kansas City Star