Up first was Blake Mills, who I interviewed in preparation for this concert. He took the stage and introduced himself and his band mate as “Blake and Sebastian, to play a few songs before we’re legally allowed to bring Fiona on stage.” Mills’ humor was as apparent tonight as in the interview. He picked at his guitar with a slider on his finger, and the beautiful sounds struck right to the core.
Mills’ Country-Western-like croons blended over his blues-folk mixed guitar while the audience watched in awe and silence. His slide guitar is just about perfect, and it added another gorgeous level to his already astonishing guitar skills. The combined nature of Blake on guitar and Sebastian Steinberg on stand-up bass (both of whom are also in Fiona Apple’s touring band) epitomized Mills’ simple approach to his songs.
The rest of Mills’ set assigned a slide guitar soundtrack to different love stories, like his single “Hey Lover,” and the tentatively-titled “Half Asleep.” Steinberg’s rocking sway provided a proper backdrop to Mills’ slap-sliding expertise, unmatched by any I’ve seen before, and enough to send shivers down the spine. As he moved into “It’ll All Work Out,” a humorous yet heartbreaking story, his stunning skill shone through the mellow melody. Despite his talent, Mills managed to display a modesty that showed promise, and will surely gain him respect in the music community. He also covered Joe Tex’s “I’ll Never Do You Wrong,” playing with such devoted concentration, yet the audience unfairly became impatient for Fiona’s headlining performance. Mills remained composed and humble, saying goodbye to the audience as he and Steinberg left the stage together.
Fiona, a famous ‘90s riot grrrl, is one many girls and women have come to idolize. As she took the stage, she looked like the goddess she is, the spotlight shining down on her face as the darkness surrounded her. The crowd cheered the loudest their throats let them as she waved and stomped up to the microphone. Her beautiful red hair and tiny, frail body captivate as she began to sing. Her songs pierce right through you as she screams the lyrics. If your soul isn’t melting, then well, you don’t have one. Her performance took command of the stage: she flailed, she pulsated at her piano, her pain coming through her words as she belted out, “you belong to me.”
All of her songs seamlessly flowed into one another, only knowing beginnings and ends when the lights dropped down all the way in-between them. Blake Mills’ dynamic guitar skills gained new light as a member of Fiona’s band. He showed off a harder rock sound, one very different from his bluesy solo style. Mills provided a proper counter to Fiona, who sang so passionately during “Shadowboxer” that her coarse vibrato cracked at times. An old fan favorite, “Paper Bag,” took her wailing to the next level as she screamed the lyrics, her arms flexing and flailing in emphasis. Her porcelain, slim body stamped and danced along to the jungle beat of “Anything We Want,” a track off her new album The Idler Wheel... An uncharacteristic optimism broke through as she sang out the uplifting lyric, “don’t let the bastards get us down” with a promising smile.
Someone yelled, “fucking dope” from the audience, and I couldn’t sum up the night so far any better. During “Sleep to Dream” off her first album, she clenched into a hybrid standing, fetal position, showing her vulnerability on stage. During “Used to Love Him,” she fell to the floor mid-song, moving into a full fetal position, regaining composure just in time to bring in the lyrics. This intensity continued into “Daredevil,” her lyrics pulsating through her body and my own, bringing back her vibrato as she slammed on the piano keys in time with the percussion beat.
Fiona’s newest single, “Every Single Night,” began slowly, essentially a capella, driving the crowd crazy as the song built up to her jungle-like war cries. The amount of following thank yous to the crowd from Fiona indicated that the set was ending soon. But not yet, as she launched into a few more songs then her biggest hit, “Criminal,” a song that reverberates back to a much younger time, and Fiona’s body language suggested that she’s only playing this song because she “has to.” She ended with a collapse to the floor again in an even more vulnerable state, lying flat. As we arove at the end of the night, Fiona chose to skip the suspenseful nonsense and jumped straight into her encore, which was only one song, “It’s Only Make Believe.” And with that, I fell in love with her all over again.
She frolicked as she left the stage: the only appropriate exit for Fiona Apple.