Dark Material Puts The Bite In
Boston Globe · Feb 26, '00
by Steve Morse
|Fiona Apple represents the flip side of the bubblegum pop of Britney Spears and the other formulaic MTV creations. Apple sings about the non-fluffy side of reality - about relationships gone bad, about the attendant scars, and about trying to dig out and move on.
Apple survived a troubled youth, moving on to sell 13 million copies of her debut album, ''Tidal,'' three years ago. She was only 19 at the time. Three years later, she's back with a new album, ''When the Pawn ...,'' which hasn't done as well (No. 127 on this week's Billboard charts), but marks an artistic progression for her. Such progress was once what music was all about, until the accountants took over at record labels and decided that it was only measured in sales.
Apple is lucky, though. She had her blockbuster album early - and now she can work on her craft. That was clear at last night's show before a sold-out crowd of 2,800 at the Orpheum. Apple didn't need to rely on trumped-up, dance-production numbers to make her point. She merely sang her heart out and that was enough to confirm that she's going to be a career artist always worth watching, while bubblegummers fade away.
What was striking was her newfound confidence. When Apple first played the Orpheum in 1998 (opening for Chris Isaak), she stammered around and talked in a nervous, speed-rapping tone. She admitted last night that she did ''too much talking'' on that earlier tour, so she cooled it this time. However, she did blurt out boldly: ''I'm just going to say it - we're going to do a fabulous show!''
Fabulous is a loaded word, but Apple delivered a very strong performance that connected with the crowd throughout. She did one too many piano ballads from her new album (which could use a few more uptempo tracks), but there wasn't an insincere note struck all night. She showed an extraordinary vocal range, from the ravaged, Marianne Faithfull-like ''Sullen Girl,'' to the eccentric, Tori Amos-style ''Get Gone,'' to a surprise encore of Cole Porter's standard, ''Just One of Those Things,'' about a love tryst that doesn't last. For this song, she departed from her able, five-piece band to sing to a backing track complete with static-y scratches taken from an old vinyl record.
Apple sang and shook with charismatic, spidery movements at her piano for most of the night, but also jumped up to electrify the crowd at the front of the stage on several tunes, including her hit ''Criminal,'' flapping her stringy hair to the beat and shimmying, in a pink top that revealed plenty of midriff.
Her show was an empowering experience. Although some songs were buried in angst, others flashed explosive anger (such as ''Get Gone,'' about kissing off a boyfriend) and these drew waves of applause from the young women in the crowd.
Much of Apple's repertoire might be classified as cabaret noir, but the way she so uninhibitedly works out her demons is what makes it so engaging. And her band added to the edge, especially guitarist Lucky Lockwood (on biting slide guitar) and bassist Keith Love.
The opening Jurassic 5, a hip-hop quartet with two backup DJs, showed some earnest skills, but was out of place in this setting. Much of the crowd tolerated them, but didn't really seem to listen.