Even a few songs into her feverishly anticipated SXSW performance, Fiona Apple seemed somewhat surprised to actually find herself performing a real, publicly advertised show. “I started spacing out,” she told the crowd jokingly. “You’re imaginary. You’re not real!” At times, though, it felt like it was Apple herself who was the illusion.
The question hanging over the first of her two performances at Austin’s annual music festival: would Apple, a Grammy-winning singer who patented dusky-voiced confessional pop when Lana Del Rey was still in elementary school, really return as fans remembered her? And would her agonizingly-delayed new music set her on the comeback trail? Sort of, and maybe.
Apple emerged to raucous applause as she stepped on stage at National Public Radio’s evening showcase at South By Southwest, waving to the crowd before launching into “Fast As You Can”, off her sophomore LP (which like her new one, has a hilariously lengthy album title). Wearing a black dress and a pink tank top (and her hair in a shaggy ponytail), she shook, swayed and stomped at the microphone stand as if trying to physically expel her songs from her body. Her set included songs from all three of her albums, including the title track to 2005′s Extraordinary Machine.
She treated fans to three new tunes, “Anything We Want,” “Valentine,” and “Every Single Night.” And Apple seemed excited to share them, as you’d expect considering much of her new material has, in her words, “been done for a fucking year”.
For the marching “Anything We Want”, Apple played a hand percussion instrument made from pipe, and sang of a hopeful getaway with a lover. It didn’t sound like too great a leap from anything she’s done before, but it also didn’t sound like it could possibly come from anyone other than Fiona Apple.
(Thanks to Stereogum for the video).
But her performance was clouded by audio trouble that left her vocals either muddy or inaudible at certain points; during others, she sang with such force that she veered to screeching (perhaps to overcome the sound problems, perhaps not). A crew member brought her a cup of hot tea as she coaxed her voice through the last few songs. Apple closed with her Grammy-winning “Criminal”, singing with her hands on her hips. She skipped the song apparently intended as her encore — at least, according to the setlist — a cover of the Beatles’ “Across The Universe”.
It may not have been the home-run performance fans might’ve hoped for from Apple’s first performance outside of Los Angeles in roughly five years. But it was enough to prove that Apple remains a fierce and fascinating pop singer, even after years away from the spotlight.