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Jeff Moehlis: Fiona Apple at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Stunning show by dark-pop singer on the eve of her 35th birthday

Amid multiple shouts of “I love you!” from the adoring crowd, Fiona Apple put on a stunning concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Wednesday night, the eve of her 35th birthday.

The show kicked off particularly strongly with a fiery performance of “Fast As You Can.” Here, Apple was a live wire, both at the microphone in front of the band and at the piano, and the sound was an aural assault courtesy of the full band treatment from Blake Mills (guitar), Sebastian Steinberg (bass), Zac Rae (keyboards) and Amy Wood (drums).

While none of the other songs were quite as incendiary as the opener, there was certainly no drop in intensity as Apple put her heart and soul into her songs, which powerfully and sometimes jarringly document her internal conflicts. As examples, in “Paper Bag” she sings, “I know I’m a mess”; in “On the Bound”, when she repeats “You’re all I need” it comes across not so much as an expression of affection as of obsession; in “Every Single Night” she reveals “Every single night’s a fight with my brain”; in “Left Alone”, she sings, “I don’t cry when I’m sad anymore” and “How can I ask anyone to love me / When all I do is beg to be left alone.”

The latter two are from Apple’s acclaimed latest album, which, as a boon to music critics who are paid by the word, is titled The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. (Of course, that’s nothing compared with her prior 90-word album title, which starts with “When the Pawn ... .”) The Idler Wheel and Pawn albums were very well-represented at the concert.

The concert arrangements of the songs from the new album weren’t as skeletal as the studio versions, but they still starkly put the focus on Apple’s distinctive voice and evocative lyrics. Special mention goes out to Rae for his rich keyboard textures and Mills for his inventive guitar stylings throughout the evening, including during his subdued singer-songwriter opening set.

Lest this all sound oh-so-serious, it must be noted that at one point between songs Apple somewhat randomly did a George Jefferson walk across stage, in honor of the recently deceased actor Sherman Hemsley. In fact, she later did it again, noting, “That’s a rule about life: If you do something stupid, just do it again.”

The evening ended with Apple singing “the last song I’ll sing while I’m 34,” a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.” This ended with a surprise rendition of “Happy Birthday” from Steinberg, a touching finale to a phenomenal show.

Setlist

Fast As You Can
On the Bound
Shadowboxer
Paper Bag
Anything We Want
Get Gone
Periphery
Extraordinary Machine
Werewolf
Left Alone
I Know
Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)
Every Single Night
Daredevil
Not About Love
It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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