I Just Want To Feel Everything
By: Connor Lenahan
This is a four-part story
My fascination with Fiona Apple exploded in June of 2012. With the release of her fourth album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (from here on referred to as The Idler Wheel…) I fell in love with her work. I had first become aware of her music a year or two earlier when I casually caught the music video for “Criminal” on VH1. For those that have seen the video, it wouldn’t exactly be a mystery as to why I, a teenage American male, was drawn to her. However I felt as though there was something more to her. As opposed to traditional pop singers, Fiona seemed to be deeply real. At no point in her music does she try to become someone else.
This is what makes her so interesting to me. I have slowly realized that my favorite artists are those that do not attempt to play a character, instead choosing to portray the reality of their lives. This is easier for people like Fiona Apple, James Murphy, Donald Fagen, and Walter Becker. They are operating in their own genres of music. Comparisons to any of their works are done with the understanding that said work is like nothing on the planet. It is a disservice to call LCD Soundsystem an electronic band. It is too general to refer to Steely Dan as jazz/rock. Fiona Apple is classified as alternative, pop and rock within my iTunes library, and this seems both contradictory and appropriate.
Displaying authenticity is harder within the realm of rap, however some of my personal favorites like Kanye West, Drake and Jay Z all have moments where they cut the braggadocio act and stand as a genuine human being before the eyes and ears of millions.
Yet no one previously mentioned has anything on Fiona Apple in terms of emotion. Sure, Kanye West is known to have his breakdowns and James Murphy has at least two songs (“All My Friends” and “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down”) that send me reaching for a Kleenex box, but Apple makes me want to stop the world and help her understand that the world is here to help her and everything is going to be okay.
There is something about the blunt emotional baggage found within every track in Apple’s discography that is unique to her and creates a mythology by eliminating any mystery about her life. This is part of why I love Fiona Apple. Despite the fact that I have never met this woman in person, I have a feeling that I would be able to sympathize with her on specific moments of her personal life. Even in an age of interconnectivity with artists, this is still a rarity. To me that is, for lack of a better phrase, really fucking cool.
After becoming addicted to The Idler Wheel… last summer, I started to work my way through the rest of Apple’s career. This wasn’t exactly an arduous task to take on. Over a period of 15 years she released four albums.
Her debut, Tidal, came out in 1996. She was 19 when the album hit stores, yet she immediately conveyed not only the skills but also the maturity and worldview of someone twice her age. Teenagers normally do not make hauntingly beautiful songs like “Slow Like Honey” or “Shadowboxer.” While I’m a fan of this album, I also think it is quite possibly the weakest album of her career. There is an understandable reason for this however. When you are trying to build the career of a debuting artist, the easiest way to do so is to create an album that plays well on the radio and meshes well with the sound found on the radio. This is where the song “Criminal” came from.
Tidal sounds little like the rest of Apple’s work, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In no means is this a bad album, contrarily, it would probably crack my top 75 favorite albums of all time, and has a more than decent shot at the top 50. I simply do not have the time to compile the legitimate list. But I digress; the album itself has at least seven songs that I legitimately love, which is a great clip for any work. This album does seem as though it was manipulated by recording label forces, suppressing the definitive sound that Apple has had since her sophomore album.
In 1999, Apple released 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. I’m not kidding, that is the full title of the album. This album is borderline flawless and received universal praise with many (including myself) believing this to be Apple’s magnum opus. It was upon listening through this album obsessively that I officially fell in love with everything Fiona Apple. I cannot put coherent thoughts together about this album. Whereas Tidal has a decent shot at my top 50 favorite albums, When the Pawn… ranks with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Channel Orange as my favorite album of all time. Normally I am able to objectively break down an album. With When the Pawn… I simply begin giggling and waxing poetic about every note over the 42:39 of run time.
Due to conflicts with her label, Apple didn’t release another album until 2005. Extraordinary Machine may not have lived up to When the Pawn… but it is still one of the better albums of the decade, and it was again lauded by every major music magazine/site. This was a transitional period. Extraordinary Machine represented a tonal shift for Apple, sounding more at peace with the world than she did six years prior. The songs had more bounce to them, notably “Tymps,” “Please Please Please,” and “Get Him Back.” This album is, as with everything Fiona Apple, interesting. I’ve listened to it plenty of times, yet I cannot escape as though there are layers upon layers of material to be digested and analyzed here. Needless to say, something so complex and rewarding both in content and depth was worth the wait for fans and critics alike.
In 2012, the anger was back with a new soundscape. Songs became sharper and featured production that can only be described as raw. Whereas “Limp” from When the Pawn… had impressive drum work by Matt Chamberlain, songs like “Daredevil” had percussion composed of Fiona slapping her thighs to create the driving force behind the song. Everything is basic, and everything is beautiful. Songs like “Regret” and “Left Alone” are some of the more emotionally draining songs in recent memory. Needless to say, the album was met with high praise once again, being named the best album of 2012 by Time Magazine and Stereogum among others.
When I started looking for colleges in mid to late 2012, I had two main considerations: Syracuse and Boston University. I had a visit set up for the former on October 12th. After doing some Internet research, I found that Fiona Apple would be playing in Montclair, New Jersey, that evening. Normally this would not be a realistic option seeing as I would be driving two hours in the morning from Scranton to Syracuse, then two hours returning then three hours to Montclair. This was insanity. There was no reason to go through with something so ridiculous.
So on October 12th of last year I went with my mom that morning to Syracuse for an interview and a tour. Immediately upon conclusion, we headed for Montclair. In retrospect, this was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. The ride wasn’t all that bad either. We listened to Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS, which saw the Yankees defeat the Orioles 3-1. A great day was made even better.
This is semi-crucial to the story, but I managed to manipulate my way into awesome seats for the show. There were two categories of tickets: Floor General Admission and Balcony Admission. The floor seats were about $25 more expensive than the balcony tickets. We purchased two balcony tickets, and when we showed up with the wheelchair were immediately whisked away to the ground floor handicapped section. The sting worked perfectly.
We sat and waited for the show to start. I wasn’t entirely sure of what was going to happen when Fiona finally took the stage. I had never really seen a live set from her before. I had read multitudes of articles that keyed in on her erratic stage behavior. I was expecting this. Anything else was fair game. Then she came out and immediately jumped into “Fast As You Can.”
Quick note on this song, you have no idea how incredible of an opener this is. It is by far the quickest tempo Apple has ever used and it makes for a straight up electric atmosphere. The place went crazy. People were singing along, Fiona was screaming, everything was right with the world.
The show proceeded to play hit after hit. The sixth song of the night, “Get Gone” was an exceptional moment where Fiona took the already powerful chorus and was able to draw in every voice in the crowd to increase the power exponentially. This led me to listen to the song no less than 15 times the next day. It’s fantastic.
Two songs later, on “Sleep to Dream,” a revelation: Apple’s touring guitarist is Blake Mills. If you are unfamiliar with him (and its almost a certainty), I cannot recommend his work enough. He added a guitar solo to the end that was just great. Wait that’s not fair. Imagine if suddenly scientists created an ice cream that tasted like every delicious food imaginable and made you a millionaire instantly. Sounds great right? This guitar solo was better than that. Ridiculous analogies aside, Blake Mills is straight fire on a guitar. I remember turning to my mom after he finished blowing each and every audience member’s mind and uttering both “wow” and “holy shit.”
By that moment, I was completely sold on anything and everything this show had to offer. Shortly later, Apple ripped into a two-song moment of sheer vocal bliss. In “Left Alone,” Apple displays her legendary vocal command by repeatedly changing octaves and tones exactly as she does on the album. Her voice has held up wonderfully and it is immediately apparent that nothing, repeat nothing, is done to enhance her performance in recording. She just is an angel. Immediately afterwards was “I Know,” which was the first time I’ve ever been in a concert where someone literally shut the entire crowd up. This song is gorgeous. The performance is soothing, hypnotic and sweet. This was without a doubt the highlight of the night. While the show continued for five songs afterwards, the night could have faded out with “I Know” and I, along with everyone else in attendance, would have left slack-jawed in a combination of musical euphoria and amazement.
By the end of the night, I was assured that I had never seen someone better on stage in my life. Despite this being one of the longest days of my life, it was worth it and then some. Again, I’d like to thank my mom for taxiing me around three states to make this happen.
376 days later, everything in my life is different. In that time, I have gotten accepted to Boston University, broken my left shin, recovered from said broken shin, most likely eaten something like 45 pounds worth of Skittles and peanut butter M&M’s and started college. I found out a few months earlier that Fiona Apple and Blake Mills would be co-headliners on the “Anything We Want” tour. I looked at the tour dates. 10/23/13. Boston. I got tickets almost immediately.
The early reports on the tour were that this would be an odd show. Something unlike anything seen before. Needless to say, I was exceedingly excited. I got to check back in on my girl. See how she was doing.
My friend Molly joined me last night for the concert. I had cheated and looked at the setlist from the past few shows. I knew that we were in for something really weird. What I didn’t realize we were in for was almost the polar opposite atmosphere of last year’s show. Fiona came onto stage alongside her drummer (I think, I have bad eyes/wasn’t entirely paying attention) and wrote, “Teach me how to be free” on the chalkboard that was curiously placed onstage.
Then, you guessed it, she started thing off with a brand new song that she co-wrote with Mills. The song, “Tipple,” is actually quite good. It sounds absolutely nothing like anything Apple has ever done before. I enjoyed it. It was pseudo-country. I have learned to never be surprised by anything Fiona does.
The second song of the evening was “The First Taste” off of Tidal. Last year people would have been waving arms and singing along gladly. This was my expectation (again, I knew the song order for the most part), and not at all the result. As with the rest of the show, the audience quietly watched the show as if it were a play. This was incredible to witness. The only crowd reactions were clapping and cheering after songs and fans chiming in with “you’re beautiful” or “we love you” from the balconies.
The vibe of the show was completely alien to the theater. This was a show designed for twenty people at a coffee house or small club, and played on front of thousands at a club. IT WORKED. That’s the coolest part of last night. They were able to mystically eliminate the surroundings for audience members (at least for me) and seem as if they were performing just for you. I’ve been to plenty of concerts (four since moving to Boston alone), and this has never happened before. I’m awestruck 24 hours later.
The show featured eight Fiona Apple songs, four Blake Mills songs, four new songs and a Conway Twitty cover. From each of the different categories, there was an exceptional performance.
The Conway Twitty song, “It’s Only Make Believe,” was the closer for last year’s show. I had known what this one would sound like, and I couldn’t wait for it to start up. There are just some covers that are so good that the US Government should officially transfer ownership of the song to the cover artist for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence. “It’s Only Make Believe” fits right in with Fiona’s best works, and it’s a crime that she has yet to record the song for preservation.
Out of the new songs, the duet “Seven” was a perfect moment of chemistry between Apple and Mills. These two genuinely like one another, and it’s not hard to pick up on this here. They just blend so well together. It’s tough to speak too much of the song since I only heard it once and live, however when it eventually appears online, I cannot recommend it enough.
For Mills, his solo cut “It’ll All Work Out,” where Apple joined in for a chorus harmony was by far the most impressive of the night. The music behind this is dark, haunting, hypnotic and oddly appealing. The lyrics to the song are also (assumedly) personal to Mills, making the moment the audience shares with him all the more personal. I’ve had the song on repeat for the last half hour and I am not tiring of it as all. This is a beautiful work that really flew under the radar. “It’ll All Work Out” came out three years ago, and it’s disappointing that I’m just hearing it last night for the first time. This was especially cool because of the feeling the song drew to me. In the same way that Fiona’s songs make me want to console her right then and there, this made me want to pat Mills on the back and tell him that I had him covered. The personal connection to the audience was never stronger than this.
With the time winding down on the show, Apple once again dove into “I Know” to begin finishing things up. This time, it was just her on the microphone and Mills on the guitar. They two were in perfect form. Words cannot express the beauty of that moment. For about five minutes, the world stopped and appreciated the genius of Fiona Apple and Blake Mills.
I departed from the show more in love with Fiona than ever. There is no one like her, and there may never be again. With that in mind, I hope that we will keep our yearly appointment with one another.
Only 364 days until I’m back with one of my idols. Hopefully.
Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is the founder and editor-in-chief of Connorlenahan.com. He is a freshman at Boston University, majoring in journalism. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org