Shadowboxer or Champion
DC @ Constitution Hall
MTV    Nov 17  '97

by Brad Shafran

It's her voice.   It's those eyes.  It's the words she sings.  It's her arms flailing through the air.  It's the bare midriff that exposes her navel ring.  It's her pleas for the crowd to scream.  It's her stomping her feet and gyrating to the music.   This, and so much more, is FIONA APPLE, the 20 year-old star who sounds well beyond her years.

She's slinky.  She's delicate.  She's restrained.  She's out of control.  Basically, she is indescribable.  With her debut album Tidal (Clean Slate/Work) showing incredible staying power in the charts, APPLE has proven herself musically.  When the music stops, though, APPLE seems to get herself into trouble (the debacle at the MTV Video Music Awards and quotes in Spin about her knowing she is going to die young serve as perfect examples).

Most people do not understand FIONA APPLE.  Does she understand herself?  She has witnessed and experienced more in her two decades than many will face in their entire lives.  Her songs reflect her angst attributed to being raped at the tender age of 12.  She is now an icon to many, a position she did not ask for but rather inherited.   If it is based on her music, she seems happy;  if it is based on her looks or appearance, she does not seem comfortable with that role.

FIONA'S past was not what the crowd at Constitution Hall came to see.  They were interested in hearing her deep, dark voice and seeing her dance like only she can.   It took two songs before the weird stage antics that separate FIONA from most other performers appeared.  "Scream for me.  I feel a weird tension.  I can't see shit.  I am relying on sounds," she told the crowd, which responded by screaming as loud as they could.

It was interchanges like this that propelled APPLE'S live performance.  When she sat behind her piano on songs like "Sullen Girl," "Slow Like Honey" and "Pale September," she was restrained.  Reserved.  Contained.   During "Shadowboxer," her eyes were fixated on the microphone in front of her piano.  She never allowed herself a glimpse of the crowd.  But when she stood in front of her microphone at the center of the stage, she lost that inhibition.   She smiled.  She talked to the crowd. She was relaxed.  Breezy.

Standing at the center of the stage, she slid to her knees as she sang "Criminal."  She preached that "I have my own hell to raise" in "Sleep To Dream."   Standing there is when FIONA has fun.  Unfortunately, the crowd couldn't enjoy themselves as much as she did because Constitution Hall is not conducive to dancing.   So it was left to FIONA to both sing and dance for everyone.

APPLE appeared to have a good time as she chatted with the crowd.  Her time on stage is a release.   She has nobody to answer to but herself.  When a teen-aged girl handed her a bouquet of flowers, APPLE informed the crowd, "It's nice to get stuff like this.   People on-stage are just as insecure as everybody else."

The contrast that is FIONA APPLE appeared several times this evening.  At her bouncy and airy best, "The First Taste" had her slinging across the stage.   Had the crowd been able to join her, it would have improved the song (for that matter, the entire evening would have benefited from a more club-like setting).  At her most poignant, APPLE was left on the stage with just her dramatic voice and her piano for "Never Is A Promise."  The emotion that this song bears resonated throughout the hall; unfortunately, some decided this was the time to confess their love for FIONA and did so by screaming over FIONA'S delicate words.  Still, after this song, the fans erupted in applause in a genuine show of appreciation for the night's performance.

A different venue would have produced a different show.  At one point, FIONA even said, "This isn't a regular show, you know?"  Had the fans been able to get up and move around and dance, the show would have been fun.  Instead, it was captivating and compelling, probably not what the younger fans had envisioned.

It was in "Never Is A Promise" where FIONA APPLE sang, "You'll never live the life that I live."  That was quite an understatement.  fin