|Fiona Apple Live At Meijer Gardens|
by Bruce Madden
The lush greenery of the Meijer Gardens and the blue sky overhead provided startling contrast between the fecundity of the natural world and the image of a wiry, almost spectral Fiona Apple. The singer looked frail clad in all black form-fitting attire; large pale bead necklaces draped around her neck; a fuchsia and white flowered scarf around her shoulders (quickly discarded); still long hair pulled severely away from her face; facial skin barely masking the contours of her skull.
A small section of the large crowd stood (and remained standing during the concert) when Apple strode across the stage. The voices of the faithful emoted a cheering sound while members of the four-piece band followed Apple from the wings. The band members, seemingly in a trance, found their instruments, arrayed around their frail-appearing black queen like dutiful pawns contemplating battle before the opening moves of a challenging chess game.
For the Apple devotees, the roughly 300 fans who remained standing (and perhaps a smattering of the seated crowd), who swayed to the music, mouthed the words to the songs, this was more than just a concert. It was a cleansing experience, a vicarious exorcism shared with Apple clearly under a shamanistic spell of her own making. This was a chance to connect with a young woman, older now who had inspired them years ago when she was just a naif with a big voice and a large battering ram of angst used to smash her demons. Clearly while carthartic, the demons still remain.
The vast majority of the crowd while fans perhaps must nevertheless be divided into two camps. Male. Female.
Most of the doleful men appeared to be thinking similarly stoic or rather superficial thoughts:
Why am I here? Sports channel, sports channel, SPORTS CHANNEL! Why me?
Certainly some of the women who sat beside these men remembered Fiona from years ago, fondly recalled her the mild jolt of angst from her videos, wondered why she is so much thinner now and regretted during the more quirky musical passages why they didn't just jump up and leave. A few couples did do just that. There were 20 songs in Apple's set that meandered along for about 90 minutes. The crowd either in a state of blissful mesmerization (the standing faithful) or lulled into performing perfunctory mental laundry lists (the mostly seated) roared their loud approval for "Sleep To Dream." Although the sound of the crowd's audio welcome may have been equal for "Criminal," which along with her aforementioned hit was more likely a sound of recognition, of relief at the familiar rather than perplexity of the intensely exotic charm of the unfamiliar.
Apple's music is not easy to digest unless one embraces a concept of freedom and the right to expand one's sound beyond acceptable standards into personal realms of expression. She experimented with her voice and the band followed along, particularly the guitarist who provided very energetic and nontraditional solos, employing a slide and plenty of otherworldy effects to change his guitar tones into industrial dissonance or equally ethereal ambience.
The concert would have been better suited at a small indoor theater. The similarity between Apple's performance and those from the heady days of Berlin's cabaret extravaganzas were striking. Her vamp crooning and raucous vocal assaults while updated seemed reminiscent of the experimental 1920s. The music seemed to float up into the ether rather than into the ears of the concertgoers.
The concert rated an A+ for the hardcore fan and a charitable C- for the curious attendee.
Bruce Madden is the former entertainment czar for Music Revue and founding member of the blues group The T-BONES. He is currently living in self-imposed exile at an undisclosed location, creating music and photographing subjects of interest. Photos by Paul Jendrasiak.
Published: July 10, 2012
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