“Every single night’s a fight with my brain,”
The singer did all she could to make it so Tuesday at the sold-out Chicago Theatre. She was in warrior mode, flexing Madonna-like biceps and shimmying like
Apple has worked at her own deliberate pace since the '90s, releasing four studio albums in that time and rarely touring. Her career started with a multimillion-selling album when she was still in her teens, and she used that success as a license to make more personal, daring music with each subsequent recording.
Her live performances have always bristled with rough edges and the occasional breakdown, but her increased self-confidence and maturity were evident Tuesday. Not that maturity should be confused with mellowing. Indeed, this was the fiercest Apple has ever looked and sounded on a Chicago stage.
She opened with her band playing at blistering volume levels, occasionally drowning her out. But Apple fought back. She slapped her thigh with a drum stick-like object as if willing her voice to pierce the wall of guitar and drums. "Baby, run -- free yourself of me as fast as you can," she warned.
Her songs described fractious affairs, intimacy gone haywire, a romantic topography littered with casualties. She harnessed all her voices to do these complex relationships justice: She trilled with vibrato-streaked vulnerability, moaned, pleaded and growled. During "Extraordinary Machine," she channeled the high-pitched warble of a Vaudeville singer.
Apple's narrators aren't passive, and they certainly aren't victims. They're battle-scarred fighters. If anything, their appetites get the better of them. In "Anything We Want," she connected the erotic pull of an adult to the unself-consciousness of childhood. Her performance had a similar transparency. She said next to nothing to the audience until the very end, as if emerging from a trance. Until then, she was immersed in the music. Her fists throttled the microphone stand. When she freed herself, her wiry body shook with spasms or tumbled to the stage, a punk-rock contortionist in "Sleep to Dream."
She pounded a kettle drum with mallets in the high-flying "Daredevil." When she nearly shouted, "This isn't about love," she slammed out percussive chords on a grand piano then let her hands scurry across the keys, a striking visual for the turbulence in the lyrics.
It was a combative, thrilling, sometimes scary performance. Only on the closing cover of
Fiona Apple set list Tuesday at Chicago Theatre: