(15 Mar 2012: Central Presbyterian Church Austin, TX)
The amount of good will Fiona Apple receives from the press is no secret, but when your second comeback performance is as strong as it was at the Pitchfork showcase, one is left with little choice but to sing praises. Those lucky enough to make their way inside Central Presbyterian Church, many of whom waited close to two hours for a chance to get in, were treated to an intimate show that will no doubt be seen as one of the highlights of this year’s festival. The church was a perfect setting for Apple to test her new material in, and the space’s excellent acoustics made both the arrangements and her booming voice positively soar.
Each of the half dozen or so new songs sounded just as strong as anything in her lauded back catalog. Her gut-wrenching brand of heartache and insecurity was present in tacks like “Anything We Want” and “Every Single Night”, and her backing band played with a sense of force and gusto that echoed across the sanctuary’s walls. Those in attendance were exceedingly receptive to the new songs, and they were even more excited when fan favorites, like “A Mistake”, Extraordinary Machine”, “Paper Bag”, and set closer “Criminal”, were played. Throughout her set, there was little doubt that she has lost none of her edge during her absence, as evidenced by the conviction in her voice and her confident poise at the mike.
Of course, as soon as the music stopped and there was space to be filled between songs, Apple showed that she is still as quirky and aloof as ever. Hot tea and throat spray graced the top of her piano, and choice bits of banter included apologizing for cussing in the church (“Not that I go to church or anything, but…”) and telling the audience how her hair ties were made of discarded baby sweat pants. Her mousy speaking voice was a far cry from the authoritative and captivating Apple that inhabited her songs throughout her set, but it worked to give the audience time to relax between excellent performances. If she continues on the trajectory she displayed at Central Presbyterian, 2012 will be a huge year for Fiona Apple.
Another showcase artist, Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, more than warranted the amount of hype she has received in recent months with her excellent set at the Pitchfork showcase. Performing multiple duties on keys, vocals, and sound pads, and with the help of a touring member to take care of the rest, she faithfully recreated her abstract bubblegum pop gems with only a few minor flubs here and there.
Songs like “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)”, “Oblivion” and an extended version of set closer “Genesis” served as the perfect display for her undeniable talents. Her ethereal voice was in top form, and she handled the few minor mishaps like the best of road tested warriors. It all made for a strong showing for one of the most exciting emerging artists at the festival.