- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

A critic might be nervous about writing a less-than-stellar review of a Fiona Apple concert. During one New York show, Miss Apple became frustrated with what she saw as sound problems. She cursed the press in attendance with a profanity-laced tirade, saying, “Put your notebooks away. If there are any critics here who give me a bad review because of this I’ll … kill you.”

Given that, I’ll preface my remarks by saying that Miss Apple is an incredibly talented young woman. “Tidal,” the singer-songwriter-pianist’s 1996 debut — released when she was just 18 — had a maturity in both music and lyrics that seemed far beyond her years. Her two later releases, 1999’s “When the Pawn … ” (the full title is 90 words long) and 2005’s “Extraordinary Machine,” weren’t as successful but still were among the more creative albums of recent years.

Without question, Miss Apple’s producers have done a commendable job of taming her undisciplined talent — at least that’s the impression one got from her Monday evening show at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center.

At times, she appeared to yell her lyrics almost as often as she sang them, and her reputation as something of an odd duck seems fully earned. The audience could see Miss Apple’s mouth moving as the music played, but she would say things away from the microphone that the crowd couldn’t hear. She even looked as if she was hitting herself in the head at times.

Yet these quirks haven’t kept Miss Apple from writing some very good songs, soul-deep confessionals about the men who have hurt her and the men she has hurt. She opened the show with “Get Him Back,” the latest single from “Extraordinary Machine.” Other highlights from that album included “Better Version of Me” and a wild, drum-heavy take on “Not About Love.”

However, the crowd cheered loudest for the songs from her first album. Miss Apple sounded especially angry on “Sleep to Dream” and on the song that made her name, “Criminal.” That was the final song of her 90-minute set. The night’s encore began with opening act David Garza joining Miss Apple for an acoustic version of another song from “Tidal,” “Sullen Girl.”

Aside from Mr. Garza’s contribution, few guitar licks were heard during the performance. (An exception was “The Way Things Are,” which Miss Apple sang with great desperation in her deep voice.) Two other keyboardists — the singer played piano now and then — a bass player and a percussionist made up her band. Miss Apple’s elegant appearance in a long strapless blue gown seemed to emphasize the cabaret influence on her music, as in “Extraordinary Machine,” the title track of her latest album.

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