Still-Green Apple Rouses the Core
The voice is ripe, but life will catch up
NYC @ Supper Club
NY Daily News    Apr 15  '97

by Jim Farber

It didn't take long for Fiona Apple to make it clear at her concert Sunday that, despite her womanly voice and traveled demeanor, she is 19 years old.   "Oh my God.  I'm so, like, nervous. This is, like, bad," Apple blurted from the stage of the Supper Club.

"Stop it, you guys, you're throwing me off," she later whined to friends, whom she accused of mocking her.

Yet when Apple opened her mouth to sing, she seemed poised, worldly and entirely passionate.  Not since the personality split between Gomer Pyle and Jim Nabors has there been such a jarring disparity between the speaking and the singing self.  One minute she was a character from "Clueless," the next she was trying to be Ella Fitzgerald.  Though performing her first major New York show to support a debut album, "Tidal" (which has become a gold-selling hit), Apple displayed the assured tone and schooled phrasing of a jazz chanteuse.

Apple owns a deep instrument, which she bends and shapes to ape the silky phrasing of a Nina Simone.  The self-penned material on her album shows the influence of everyone from Sade to Gershwin.  While her arrangements can be orchestrally dense and quirky, her crack five-piece backup band delivered them with aplomb.  The more orchestral elements came from players on vibes and on the chamberlain, an obscure keyboard whose use here never seemed like an affectation.

Apple's lyrics also avoided pretension by sticking to what she knows best:  boys.  "This song I wrote when I was 15 about a guy who totally ignored me," she said before the pretty "Slow Like Honey."   Nearly every song found Apple pining for a guy who's toying with her, including her latest single, "Sleep to Dream."  Nearly every song was also a ballad, which didn't suit this standing-room venue terribly well.  Still, her audience — which included many people far older than she — remained largely rapt.

Apple seemed comfortable playing lead piano on some numbers.  On others, she gyrated in a mock-Arabic style at center stage.  Even here, her sexuality came off as unself-conscious.  She never played the sullen waif her physique might suggest.   Such a lack of attitudinizing, and the honest goofiness of her youth, proved charming.  By so clearly acting her age, Apple encouraged us to give her time, to let her real life catch up to the experience that thrives in her songs.  fin