CLEARWATER -- It was hard to tell who was prouder of Fiona Apple on Thursday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall: the singer's 1,500 adoring fans or her grandmother Millicent Bremner from Pasco County, sitting in the seventh row with her husband and another couple.
Grandma, or Nanamee as Apple lovingly calls her, chatted with me before the concert, giving a unique perspective on her granddaughter. A few songs into the show, Apple let the crowd know Nanamee was there. From then on, fans descended on the beaming grandma, explaining to her how talented her granddaughter is.
But Nanamee knows:
I remember watching Fiona play the piano when she was 21/2 years old.
Apple, lithe and lovely in a long black skirt and blue tank top, pounded her beloved piano, belting out On The Bound, Limp and To Your Love from
When The Pawn . . ., the 22-year-old singer's superb sophomore album.
Indeed, Apple performed like an old pro. To watch this tiny woman growl and grimace like a thoroughly modern blues singer -- think Nina Simone meets Sinead O'Connor and you're almost there -- is electrifying.
Apple captivated the crowd with Criminal, her sultry hit from Tidal, her debut album. That song testifies to being a 'bad, bad girl," and maiming the heart of 'a delicate man." Apple, you see, plays vixen as well as she does vulnerability.
Oh, she sometimes pretends to be snotty, but I'll tell you a little secret, most of that is an act.
Known for untethered performances, in which Apple has cursed critics and clawed herself onstage, the singer was in remarkably good spirits Thursday.
She's in love now, you know. I think Paul is here with her.
Apple smiled often at the piano, shyly giggling after several songs.
[Times photo: Douglas R.
Fiona Apple performs Thursday at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Apple's five-piece backing band included a vibraphone player. The cool, refreshing sounds of that instrument made Apple's jazzy material -- all of it self-penned -- sound even more sophisticated. Apple could hold her own in a smoky dive, a dance club, even on the best Motown record. She is not merely prodigious for her age, she is a phenomenal talent.Apple left the piano bench to sing several numbers at a mic stand, her delivery vaulting from finesse to ferocity. Apple moved like a flamenco dancer sometimes, gracefully sculpting the air with her fingers. Seconds later, she would stomp the ground and clench her fists.
Apple returned to the piano for Get Gone. That song finds Apple conflicted about both using her art and feeling used by it. Apple conveys an artist's sense of futility, of not being able to unleash those feelings from the gut. Sing! she screams and bashes the keys. Sing! Sing again!
It was mesmerizing. At the show's end, the crowd was on its feet, demanding more. Nanamee shook her head in disbelief.
I'm exhausted for her.
Apple returned to sing the Cole Porter classic, Just One of Those Things.
The stage was covered in fan's gifts, roses, stuffed animals. Cards.
Nanamee looked delighted. She clutched my arm.
I took Fiona here to Ruth Eckerd Hall when she was five, to see a ballet. I never dreamed someday I'd see her here.