LIVE: Fiona Apple & Blake Mills, Newmark Theater, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

  1. Some shows are difficult to find an angle for. Angles aren’t always necessary, but the tour that Fiona Apple and Blake Mills have embarked on, it seems, is fairly fluid. There was no opener, but simply Apple and Mills onstage together, with a drummer and upright bass player, tearing through each other’s songs, and songs they’ve written together. Of last year’s The Idler Wheel, four songs were played: “Every Single Night”, “Left Alone”, “Regret”, and “Anything We Want”. The second song was “The First Taste”, a cut from Tidal that had never been played live before. I am unfamiliar with Blake Mills as a songwriter, but the songs of his that were performed were nothing short of magical.
  2. During the show, I began mentally writing this article. This article was going to make mention of Apple’s appearance: she appeared somewhat sickly and stick-thin. I rarely look at photos of Apple, and I was unprepared for how thin she is. I need to say now: her appearance is entirely meaningless, but considering her history of breakdowns, it felt somewhat relevant, though not truly. However she looked, she performed perfectly, and laughed her way through a lot of on-stage mess-ups. Portland’s show was the very first of this tour, and it was clear that some rust needed to be shaken off. Other than those mess-ups, you could really never tell that there was any rust at all.
  3. Onstage, Apple and Mills delighted in playing with the songs they had written together, with Apple intoning that she was glad that they were “songs the label didn’t have their hands on yet.” She apologized profusely for mistakes, which were never bad enough to stifle the performance. “People go to NASCAR to see the crashes, and not the finish,” Blake intoned after a failed start to “Anything We Want” (This was a wildly appropriate bit of foreshadowing, but we’ll get to that in a few moments). It’s hard to overstate how enjoyable the two are onstage together. At one point, the two engaged in an argument about Billy Joel, in which the term “Billy Joel fan” became derogatory, and Apple confessed to being a hesitant fan of “Uptown Girl”, despite what part of “Uptown” is implied. ” At another point, Mills began to introduce “Left Alone” while Apple stood stretching. When she looked at her setlist and realized what song was up, she yelled “Oh fucking Christ!” and ran over to her piano.
  4. You’re going to be reading a lot about this performance in the future. What came at the end of the show sullied the entire performance, and there’s really no way around any of it. With exactly one song to go, an audience member in the balcony yelled out, “Please get healthy, we want to see you again in 10 years.” Out of context, and from a friend, these words might come across with care and concern. That isn’t how it comes off when you’re in the darkness of a nearly sold-out theater. Apple stopped the performance immediately, calling for the person to be ejected immediately. Before changing her mind, she went as far as to have the house lights turned on so that she could watch them leave. She proceeded to rail against the paparazzi at large, for spreading half-truths and hate-speech about her since the 90s, and thanked The Oregonian for clearly listing every contributor to the paper, as opposed to the staff of TMZ who hide from view. She railed against label-heads for stifling her creative output in the past, and making her feel worthless. She tried to leave the stage several times, coming back each time amidst cheers of admiration, support, and love from her fans. She tearfully, begrudgingly finished the final song, apologizing for the intrusion, threw her handbells down, and left, leaving the audience to try and figure out what had gone wrong.
  5. I’m going to struggle to remember this performance for what it was: a fantastic performance by four incredibly talented musicians, who worked in lockstep with each other at every turn, even when they were still trying to figure out what the hell they were doing. I should be remembering it for being a magical kickoff to a whirlwind tour, and a great taste of what’s to come for two fantastic musicians. Instead, I’m writing this article before news outlets and tabloids get in a few words about how Fiona Apple had another meltdown, all because one person couldn’t keep quiet. Should it be the fan’s job to walk on eggshells? Certainly not, but it is their job to not yell out things about someone they know very little about, well meaning or not.
  6. Fiona Apple is a creative genius, even if she has a history of being easily-unwound. She doesn’t deserve for her tour to have a stormcloud above it before it even gets out of the gate.
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10 thoughts on “LIVE: Fiona Apple & Blake Mills, Newmark Theater, Portland, OR

  1. Ashley says:

    I was at the show, in the second row. I’m a huge Fiona fan and I’ve seen her live many times. By far, this was the most personal show–on a completely different level than I’ve ever seen her.

    The heckler’s comment mentioned in the above article, was not the only barb thrown at Fiona. After the first comment, a male heckler shouted about her appearance as a “half man”. Since I was so close to the heckler and Fiona, I could see that was the comment that pushed her over the edge. A third barb, possibly said by the first heckler or a third person, was what shut her down. “I saw you 20 years ago, and you were beautiful.” After all three remarks the crowd surged with support for Fiona, slammed the hecklers, but it was just too much. People may have a lot to say about this tomorrow. I just wanted to make sure everyone heard the full story. She was pushed over the edge by 2-3 individuals who had to ruin it for all the fans, and tear Fiona down. I know I wouldn’t have been able to be handle myself. She may be an amazingly gifted artist, but she is still a person. I wish people would remember that. It’s a shame, for an artist that talented to be ripped apart in such a public display. It’s was gut-wrenching to watch and contrary to this article, I do think all three comments were meant to do harm. It was disgusting behavior and it shouldn’t be downplayed.

    • I think you may have misheard one of the comments made, or it’s possible that I didn’t hear the one you’re referring to. What I heard wasn’t “half man”, but that she was a “has been”. While the initial comment can be construed as misguided concern, the one that followed was a tremendous insult, and while it does a slight disservice to the whole story, it was left out for one reason: the person who yelled it does not deserve the time of day. Whatever it is they yelled, it was a cheap attack, and one that was almost certainly done to get slice of attention. That person doesn’t deserve it.

      I would never have been able to make it through either, however. I would like to hope that the other two comments made (which I believe were from the same person) were a terribly placed attempt at support, though it is entirely possible that you are right in thinking it was meant to hurt her. The evening was an incredibly intense one by the end of things, and I can only hope that it didn’t get that way because of malice.

      • Ashley says:

        Well, I guess I feel like it was said intentionally to get a response out of her. People who follow Fiona know about the Perez incident. Likely know about the recent Japan incident. But, maybe I’m wrong.

        Either way, what is even more upsetting is that this would never happen to a male musician. For a creative genius, she seems to have to feild more comments about her physical appearance than the body of her work and immense talent. I know that this is not unique to Fiona, but I just find it ridiculous that female artists are constantly under the microscope for their bodies. This isn’t new, but still as frustrating as ever. And perpetuated by another woman? Pretty despicable and condescending.

      • I think, the underlying question is: why say anything at all? That’s a terrible way to get your concern across, and a terrible place to do so. I imagine, if that fan had said that to her in person, the exchange wouldn’t have gone down like that. But in a very public forum, it’s easy to feel like a cornered animal.

        And you’re entirely right: this kind of thing rarely, if ever, happens to male performers. Perez Hilton doesn’t care if Sufjan Stevens and Bradford Cox are thin, but artists like Fiona Apple are constantly subject to press scrutiny in regards to their appearances. Personally, I’m sick of it.

    • Did you actually see the first heckler? I was front, center and it sounded to be from stage left (around the same area as a woman who would “Woo” at any quiet, reposed lull). Did she actually leave, as the crowd said, and her second heckle came from mid as she was walking out? The male sounded like it came from the same area as the first female and could have been the other half of a drunk free-ticket couple, but who knows. I wish there were some sort of accountability for $52K worth of tickets and tinged memories, but I’m left feeling Fremdscham and sad by it all ending this way.

      • I was right about where you were, and from how I heard it, the female voice came from the balcony left, and the male from the balcony in the back of the room, or possibly one of the back floor rows. I don’t think they were related, though at that point, there was enough yelling that my orientation was possibly off. Regardless, I agree to a point. I don’t think a venue can be held accountable for a show that is tarnished by hecklers. And I’m torn on whether or not they should be held accountable. As a constant showgoer, I feel like I would have at least made a call about a refund if it had happened halfway through (or if I hadn’t been there to cover the event). On the other, a venue can only do so much about people like that, other than kicking them out.

        Situations like this are so very strange. I walked away feeling really broken up and torn about the experience, because that last 10 or so minutes was really touch and go, and really emotional, but the preceding hour or so was fantastic.

      • I’m not saying the venue is accountable at all, but a venue-endorsed TSA-style “no show” list countrywide may add some civility to people’s actions.

  2. It’s not like the incessant, supportive heckles helped anything, but to rekindle and validate the hurtful ones. I don’t understand the need of all these idiots to continually inject themselves into the performance rather than gladly taking the beautiful, unguarded performance that was given to us.

  3. Fiona and her band have most likely been working very hard on delivering this show. I wasn’t there (for this one), but what I have seen in the past has always been Fiona standing metaphorically naked in front of the stage, letting herself dive deep into her songs, which are already intensely personal. When one is in that emotional of a place (especially in a public setting, which further adds to vulnerability), it is not the time to not only disrupt their work, but then make comments that have nothing to do with the energy and passion that is being given. It is a shame that journalists try to paint this as a way to make Fiona look “crazy” and “unstable” when, in reality, she is an artist who is in the middle of giving all that she can to her audience. And I agree with comments that say if Fiona was a male, the media would say that she was “just an artist” and “only human.” We are not yet at the point where males and females can both be seen as just human. Instead, certain media outlets insist on categorizing and separating genders to fit stereotypes and untrue labels.
    –JW

    • You’re absolutely right, and it is troubling when they use incidents like this to paint her as “crazy”. Even if she is, why should that inform anything, really? She’s an artist. Emotion will always be a major part of art. The thing that has set Apple apart over the last 15 years is her unwillingness to edit those emotions, and that is why I, personally, always return to her music.

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