Fiona Apple Live At The Huntsman Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, 25 October 2006
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United States of Americaby Jase Luttrell
Posted: 14 November 2006

Jase had front-row seats to the experience of Fiona Apple performing live in Salt Lake City, Utah, of all places. He's still shaken by the ordeal (the Fiona Apple ordeal, not the ongoing Salt Lake City ordeal)...but in a good way. We promise.

Fiona Apple live in Salt Lake CityThe Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) and the LGBT Resource Center presented Fiona Apple with the Debi Graham Band at 8pm in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah campus on 25 October. The concert was full of Fiona's erratic energy, and the rock style of Debi Graham's acoustic guitar perfectly created the atmosphere for a high-energy show.

On this particularly gloomy night I took the TRAX train up to the Huntsman Center and quickly walked the short distance to the venue because of the chill night air and the snow and rain that had been falling since that afternoon. Once I was inside I was escorted to my front-row seat (yes, front row - oh yeah!) and waited for my three friends to arrive. I quickly noted that the venue was getting busier by the minute, as people escaped the blizzard outside and found their seats. I also noticed that my friends and I were lucky we bought tickets early. Not only did we have front-row seats, we were directly in front of the piano Fiona would later be playing.

For those unfamiliar with the Huntsman Center as a venue for concerts, there's a good reason why: it sucks. The Huntsman Center is typically only used for University of Utah basketball games and commencement/graduation ceremonies. It is a large, dome structure, which means there is a horrible amount of echoing. Because my friends and I were lucky enough to be sitting in the front row, we were not subjected to most of the echo effect. I pity the audience members who were in the stadium-style seats, for I am sure they felt the full brunt of the echo.

After looking around the crowd and finding a few familiar faces, I chatted with some friends, and another friend briefly ditched her 13th-row seat to sit with me while the Debi Graham Band took the stage. I had never heard of this band before but apparently it is known for playing at the Salt Lake Arts Festival and the Utah Pride Festival. Needless to say, I was quickly impressed by the band's ability to start a show with such energetic ferocity. The band played five or six songs, most notably the steady and rhythmic "Wasting Time". Two of my friends came in half-way through the opener's set, and my other friend returned to her 13th-row seat. The band's entire set featured Debi jumping, dancing, and running around the stage while rocking out on her acoustic guitar, as her bassist and drummer provided the rhythm section. The Debi Graham Band is certainly a band I will continue to look out for in the Salt Lake City valley.

After the opener left the stage, the lights came back up, and I again found more people I recognised. Because I was talking to some friends I hadn't seen in years, I didn't notice how long it took before Fiona's band took the stage. I can say with certainty that it was not more than 30 minutes before the sound check and preparations for Fiona's show were finished. As the lights went down, the crowd screamed and cheered, and Fiona emerged from the white-curtain background, sat at her piano (a mere ten feet away), and broke into the first song of the night, "Get Him Back", a raucous, tortuous song of love gone wrong, with an angry descending bass line. Fiona rocked back and forth on her piano bench, and pushed her way through the song with defiant energy.

I first saw Fiona Apple at the inaugural Lilith Fair in Winter Park, Colorado, in 1996, after her first album, Tidal, was in early release, in 1995. Her performance then was memorable, but I have never purchased one of her CDs and have only borrowed her albums when friends have had them. As a result, I don't know the names or lyrics of every song, and can't provide a full set list for the night's show.

Fiona performed songs from her three releases Tidal (1996), When The Pawn...* (1999), and Extraordinary Machine (2005). She continued to play the piano for "On The Bound", while her two keyboardists created some interesting effects with their synthesizers. The synthesized solo was loud, impressive, and aptly displayed Fiona's melodies that incorporate augmented and diminished chord constructions.

Fiona then continued through her set with other fast-paced songs, such as "Sleep to Dream", "Oh Sailor", "To Your Love", "Limp", and "Paper Bag". "Paper Bag" is a playful song, during which the audience loudly sang along. For these songs, one of her keyboardists sat at the piano, and Fiona was center stage with the microphone in hand. She also performed "Get Gone", a mostly gentle song, in which the same band member continued to play the piano, as well as two other slow songs that I don't know the names of, which were entirely keyboard based with light drumming using snare brushes. These two songs broke the monotony of straightforward, angry rock, and gave the show a more human, emotional feel, as opposed to the metronome-like quality of her heavy rock songs.

Other notable performances included the songs "A Mistake" and "Fast As You Can." On "A Mistake", Fiona chose to showcase her amazing ability as a vocalist, singing in a very high, lilting register, which floated above the exceptional keyboard effects. For "Fast As You Can", the final song in the set, the audience was treated to an exciting drum solo, which melted into Fiona's fiery lyrics as she marched around the stage. For the chorus, she mostly stood in the centre of the stage, crouching as she breathlessly made her way through the long stream of lyrics. At the conclusion of the song, she and the band members left the stage to the sounds of a standing ovation.

When the band returned for the encore, the keyboardist immediately played the beginning of "Extraordinary Machine", replacing the pizzicato string sounds found on the studio version of the song with the staccato hammerings of the piano. Once again, Fiona's voice was in fine form, and the audience clapped along as an impromptu percussion section. Finally, she performed "Criminal", her most recognisable song, to sounds of loud cheering and applause. Her vocals soared throughout the sultry song and, for the last chorus, she held the microphone in her hand, repeatedly screaming the lines to the chorus with an incredible show of emotion and fire. Just before 11pm the band ended the song and Fiona looked at the audience one last time to wish us all a good night and to thank us for coming to her show.

Naturally, there were some curious moments about this enigmatic singer's performance. To begin with, Fiona addressed the audience only twice, both times mid-way through her performance. The first time was to talk to the predominantly student audience, asking them what they are going to do after they graduate. She likened the uncertainty that many college students were feeling to her own situation by saying that she didn't know what she was going to do after she finished her tour. During this portion of the show the audience was very active, with several people shouting out their affection for her. She even received a few marriage proposals.

The second time Fiona addressed the audience she stopped to talk about something but was interrupted by an audience member who yelled something about the recent snowfall. To this, Fiona warmly joked about her fondness for snow days and ditching all of her plans to stay inside and watch the snow fall through a window. Her jokes were received well by the audience, especially a joke concerning Scrabble as an entry into the dictionary. Once the joking ended, she launched into the second half of her set with no reservations.

Another curious aspect of her performance was her tendency to run or walk around the stage during instrumental breaks. She would usually do this while kicking at the stage, apparently shouting and screaming obscenities (but not into the microphone). During one inaudible outburst, she sat down next to her keyboardist and drummer for a full minute, her head buried in her hands, her entire body shaking violently. Many members of the audience thought she was extremely pissed off about how the show was going, very involved with the performance, or suffering from Tourette's Syndrome. These outbursts distracted from the overall performance, but I quickly realised that during these instrumentals it was best to close my eyes and focus on the music, rather than let my eyes follow her to figure out what the hell she was doing. I was distracted, but I found solace in the music, which may have been her intention all along.

More distracting than Fiona's repeated outbursts and tantrums was a reporter who crouched around the stage near us taking photographs. He never got in the way of our line of vision, but we noticed he repeatedly took photographs of us and the rest of the people in the front row, in an effort to get audience shots for whatever paper he worked for (either the Daily Utah Chronicle or the Salt Lake Tribune). Regardless, if I want to be photographed, I will let the photographer know. I certainly don't want to be photographed while I'm enjoying a concert, because it detracts from my enjoyment. If a security guard hadn't been standing nearby, I probably would have said something to the photographer in frustration although, thankfully, he eventually disappeared halfway through Fiona's performance.

After the Salt Lake City show, Fiona had a mere three more dates scheduled for her 2006 tour season. I'm glad I got to see her perform, and though her performance is jarring, erratic, and the audience never knows what to expect, Fiona performs her songs with an incredible amount of passion and intensity that few other performers rival.

*Please note that the full title of this album is:
When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King
What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight
And He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring
There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might
So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand
And Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights
And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land
And If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right.


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