Fiona’s Cold Shoulder Doesn’t Phase Her Fans
words and photos by Morgen Schuler
Fiona Apple‘s live show may not be what you expect from someone with such passionate music. True, quite a bit of her earlier work on Tidal is a bit angry, but so much of what she writes has her face contorted into pained expressions of feelings waiting to burst forth. Despite that dam of emotion constantly in danger of breaking, her interaction with the audience is such a rarity that even the slightest smile or rise of her eyelids to reveal large green and seemingly soulful eyes gets an instant and roaring reaction from the crowd. This behavior has always seemed more of a brush off than an act of demure humility and most likely cost her many attendees to live shows in the future. Her slight frame, lack of “meat on her bones” and angular face do nothing to help this calloused feeling emanating from her as she steps out on stage.
To be quite honest, during her long-awaited performance at SXSW she seemed to give the audience the cold shoulder by coming out a bit later than expected, shortening her set and fixing her eyes on the microphone whether singing at the piano or standing center stage. Perhaps this (lack of) reaction to the audience is almost expected by fans of “rock stars” but personally it was a put-off. So, when the Paramount show finally arrived it was no surprise that she had the same aversion to eye contact, cute stage banter and interaction with the anxious crowd. Having seen so many live shows, both local and national, one of the few things that really draws you in is the feeling of connection between the musician and the fans. If that’s not there, then the pedestal grows even higher and you can merely look upon them as a pretty statue rather than a real person with incredible talent.
It turns out, she’s deathly afraid of the stage. This woman who has been in the limelight since her 1996 debut Tidal still has a fear of the very thing that provides a majority of her livelihood. At the mere age of 19 she had a hit album, beautifully produced videos (see Criminal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFOzayDpWoI) and a growing fan-base that would make any musician jealous. It’s hard to imagine anyone making a career of something that scared the living daylights out of her, so you have to give the girl credit. One of the few mumbled sentences she managed to say between songs near the beginning of the show, “I’m so happy to be here”, was so endearing that the audience palpably connected with her and forgave the enduring radio silence there after and just enjoyed the performance.
Stage fright or no, Fiona has an undeniably beautiful voice. Her ability to switch from angelic melodies to low-down, dirty blues has you stumbling along behind her in awe wondering where she’ll take you next. Especially during those slower, swaggering songs it’s easy to imagine her swaying along in a 1920’s sleuth movie as the sexy co-star getting into trouble or trying to seduce the serious protagonist, breaking his nutshell of an exterior with her musical wiles.
Early on she laid into “Sleep to Dream” and I was transported back to the 1998, my first year of college. My dad mentioned a new musician he’d heard on NPR, Fiona Apple, and swore I’d like her music. Next thing I knew the album had made at least a hundred rounds in the CD player and I adored her from head to foot. I snapped back into reality and sang as loudly as I could to every song from Tidal as she made her way through her set Tuesday night.
Both old and new work was performed throughout the evening but it didn’t matter, her fans are die-hard and knew every word. It was easy to find yourself swaying hips to a slow song, moving along like thick molasses; then the next moment whipping your head from side to side as the melody picks up to the speed of a rushing train. From bluesy numbers like “Shadowboxer” off Tidal to charmed plunking numbers like “Extraordinary Machine” from the newer album of the same name, the entire set was a stroll through her diverse and storied catalogue.
By the end of the night, it was hard not to be hooked on Miss Apple.