Fiona Apple: Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Washington, DC 3/28/12

Fiona Apple’s first tour in nearly five years wrapped up Wednesday night with an incredibly intimate concert at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. The venue, its pews packed to the brim with 900 well-behaved fans, was the perfect place to cap off a short East Coast swing that has captured the attention of music critics and thrust Apple back into the national spotlight. With anticipation, excitement and energy hanging heavy in the air, Apple and her band gave an emotional and passionate performance with songs spanning the entirety of her musical career, as well as a few selections from her upcoming new album The Idler Wheel….

In black leather boots, a long silver skirt and a simple black tank-top that accentuated her slender, sinewy frame, Apple pranced her way to the front of the stage before the elated applause of the sold-out audience. She paused briefly as the synagogue hushed and a manic drumbeat began to swell, then launched into When the Pawn…’s “Fast As You Can” with ferocity. The first third of the setlist prominently featured four songs from Pawn, her second full-length album. After “Fast As You Can,” Apple moved to her piano to perform “On The Bound,” but then returned to center stage for “Paper Bag,” and “A Mistake,” during which she thrashed around during musical breaks, while also showcasing her unmistakable voice with a powerful vocal improvisation to close the song.

Throughout the remainder of the show, Apple mixed in favorites from her debut Tidal, her 2005 release Extraordinary Machine, and songs from her upcoming album, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do, slated for release in June 2012. With a noticeable rasp in her voice at times, and a skipped vocal and piano outro during “Sleep to Dream,” one couldn’t help but wonder if the flu virus that forced Apple to postpone her D.C. show by one week was still ailing her. Regardless, the messages conveyed through her movements on stage more than made up for an excluded lyric or piano riff, and demonstrated part of what makes a Fiona Apple performance so special. Whether dancing around the stage amongst flickering candles, hanging on the microphone stand during a song, or twitching back and forth to the music, Apple’s body greatly emphasize the emotions conveyed in the music, and connects with the audience in a way few other artists can.

While the raw anger in her early runaway hit single “Criminal” and the stunning falsetto in title-track “Extraordinary Machine” delighted fans starving to see Apple perform live, songs from her upcoming release proved most captivating and provided the best look into Apple’s musical development over the past seven years. The new songs debuted during this short tour, titled “Anything We Want,” “Valentine,” and “Every Single Night,” explore troubled love through meaning-laden lyrics and evolved versions of the deceptively lighthearted melodies that characterized Extraordinary Machine. During “Anything We Want,” arguably the strongest of these tracks, Apple steps to the microphone with a homemade triangle-like instrument comprised entirely of metal pipes and confidently sings heartfelt lines about seduction, desire and hardship within a relationship. Though listeners will have to wait until June (hopefully no longer) to see exactly how Apple’s music has developed and changed since 2005, these songs suggest that The Idler Wheel… will continue to build on the lyrical depth and creativity that has made Apple a significant cult figure in the music world.

In a tactful effort to fade away from the spotlight directed at her all night, Apple closed her performance Wednesday with covers: “Across the Universe” (The Beatles) and “It’s Only Make Believe” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins). Done with delicacy and grace, Apple’s beautiful and distinctive rendition of both songs only served to cap off an intimate and soulful performance that reaffirms her raw talent and musical ability, and a tour that assures she will not be out of the spotlight anytime soon.

Fast As You Can
On The Bound
Paper Bag
A Mistake
Anything We Want [new song]
Valentine [new song]
Sleep to Dream
Extraordinary Machine
Every Single Night [new song]
Across The Universe (Beatles cover)
It’s Only Make Believe (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover)

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