Or, as she might title it, “When Fiona Apple performs at SXSW, and Andrew Bird performs later, but there are a few people in-between and the photographers are crammed together and in the way, so you leave as soon as she’s done,” or simply, “Fiona Apple performs…”.
The dream of the 90s is alive in Austin. As one of those kids who listened to ‘Tidal’ when he was an emotional teenager too wistful for punk and too nice for metal, I made sure to get to Stubb’s early. Too early, in fact, and the hilariously rude Stubb’s hostesses shooed me away. I wandered around on the street for a bit, and when I returned 20 minutes later there were five, maybe ten people in line. I took my spot, made a few hashtaggy tweets about my absent masculinity and settled in for the wait.
Somewhere between that experience and 7:45, the crowd had grown from me and a few uncool women in their late (late) twenties into this:
My first reaction is, “for Fiona Apple? Really?” Then I remember that I was there early enough to be in the front f**king row.
Fiona Apple hasn’t ever really been what I’d consider a “great singer” — she’s not ever going to score weepy ASPCA commercials with her voice or get that Adele “spotlight and arrangement” spot on awards shows, for example — but where she succeeds is in how truthfully the words spill out of her mouth. Spill isn’t really the right word, I guess. Apple has a full-body sing, where her neck tenses up and her shoulders start squeezing forward and she balls up her fist in her dress and contorts her legs, like she doesn’t want to SAY the words, but they’re coming out anyway. She is not comfortable, not in any aspect of this, and that’s an asset to her when she has to sing a song like ‘Fast As You Can’ and make you believe it.
She lightened up a bit after the photo pit let out (aside: the dramatic return of Fiona Apple has to be the single most photographed moment in SXSW this year … photographers were literally standing on top of other photographers to lean in and get a shot, taking non-stop pictures, and she hadn’t moved since the last one. They were desperately trying to sneak in extra shots as security pushed them away. One guy was taking Instagram photos on an iPad in the press pit), but as the show worked its way to ‘Criminal’ she began to lose her voice and screamed most of the lyrics. It added a weird desperation to her songs, and I need to say here that she gave me goosebumps on multiple occasions, but not normal goosebumps, those goosebumps you get when you know you’re about to fight someone. Fear goosebumps.
Her new album (with a two sentence title, not a joke) shows up in June, so hopefully this will lead to a sort-of cultural relevancy rebirth for Apple and her appearances at festivals like this one won’t just be the next stop in the 90s nostalgia tour for people who went to the Spice Girls reunion. More importantly, I hope Apple can keep her voice, and that the photog pit returns to normalcy for her so she doesn’t feel like a tensed up zoo animal, and that this two sentence album is as good as the last one.