There’s something especially satisfying about art that is not only good, but that disappoints… This past Saturday Fiona Apple and Blake Mills graced the Merriam Theater for something that… well, was apparently not what many concertgoers had expected. The duo are currently nearing the end of a collaborative tour that has the jazzy and hyper-melancholic chanteuse and the postmodern guitar god of Americana kicking out a plethora of un-released folk and blues inspired jams… It should be noted that the title of the tour is “Anything We Want: An Evening with Fiona Apple and Blake Mills.” Throughout the course of their 90-minute set the band was cascaded with a hailstorm of adulation in-between songs… Most commonly, “I love you, Fiona!,” but also a bevy of in-the-know admirers screaming things like, “Blake, you’re fucking incredible!” However, after the lights came up, from the encore-less set, a sizable number of audience members proclaimed things like, “Well, that fucking sucked,” not believing that they had spent $60 for an evening entirely lacking in “hits.”
There were, indeed, a number of attendees, who had apparently come, expecting to see Ms. Apple churn out “Sleep to Dream,” “Criminal,” “Fast As You Can,” and all of the other songs that had, more than a decade ago, charmed individuals likely too dim to actually understand the beauty of her craft and probably anything that inspired it to begin with. While so many pop stars of previous generations’ current goal would seem to be to ensure your continued “support,” Apple not only doesn’t seem fazed by the notion, but thrives on being an affront to it. This was not a “Fiona Apple” show. This was two artists, coming together for a greater whole, pursuing their latest, and likely most currently profound, passions. The set did include a small handful of both Apple’s and Mills’respective latest sounds, but approached from the perspective of Fiona Apple and Blake Mills covering the work of a separate entity.
In a culture where we’re taught to not appreciate musicality that’s unfamiliar, Apple and Mills produced an evening that was not only enjoyable, but quite prolific. This was surely aided by the setting of a nearly-100-year-old theater, which was intimate to the point of being claustrophobic… but that seemed to be an asset for Apple and Mills. The two put together a performance more akin to performance art and folk art than anything put together by anyone who has managed to sneak their way onto FM radio in recent years. And the rapport of the two transcends simple charm into something that is likely actually brilliant: Apple as the endearingly and quirkily neurotic songstress, paired with Mills, the awkwardly unkempt virtuoso, far more interested in his own abilities than what will make him an accepted public persona. (They’re not exactly of Moz-and-Marrian…but they’re not too far off.)
The evening was comprised of the latest passions of artists whose audiences assumed had peaked and who, evidently, find songwriting and performing far more satisfying than living up to ambiguous expectations. And for songwriters lacking the clout of popular hacks like Billy Joel and Elton John, that audacity is far beyond admirable and far more enthralling. To reiterate, this was not a “Fiona Apple” show… It was a night of what currently gets off Fiona Apple… And Blake Mills. And as much as I love them for that, I must admit, that after 80 minutes of being in awe of such audacity, the final moments, comprised of re-imaginings of the closing tracks of Apple’s second and third albums, the duo’s existentially crushing and sonically crippling take on 2000’s “I Know,” which sent me on a traumatic trail through the history of my own love-and-sex-life, proved to be not only the night’s most powerful moment, but a moment which nearly killed me…