MG_3536-1024x682October 8, 2013. 6:30 p.m. U.C. Berkeley.

I raced out of class at the pinpoint of sunset.

I was about 100 feet from Zellerbach Hall’s infamous theater, where Fiona Apple was scheduled to perform with SoCal rocker (and touring session guitarist) Blake Mills that night.

That meant it was only 100 feet between me and one of the most moving experimental jazz singers of our time.

I was stoked, to say the least.

But for all my excitement, I would soon come to find that Mills, being relatively new to the solo artist scene, delivered but did not come close to Apple’s talent and ingenuity.

I arrived to see a small flock of people slowly finding their way in to the grand theater. The full house arrived in a matter of minutes. It was a curious audience and they were treated to a stream of obscure recorded dialogues and a set stage, complete with a chalkboard bearing the words, “Teach me how, teach me how, teach me how…”

I was an eager pupil, ready to learn.

Despite a few delays due to outside construction, I didn’t have to wait long to learn. Fiona Apple and Blake Mills emerged from backstage and settled beside their respective instruments. Well, not Fiona. She instead erased the chalkboard and inscribed the exact same words, tapping the chalk rhythmically to Mills’s synced guitar.

The whole arrangement depicted two artists having a fantastic time.

And fantastically, they began their performance. Clad in a simple black dress and blue bandana, Apple suddenly looked to Mills, and they jumped straight into their folky-bluesy collaborative effort, “Tipple.”

Once the song ended, the duo composed themselves, with Apple adjusting her bandana and Mills tuning his guitar.

Between sets, Apple was animated. She dissed American film critic Rex Reed like at past shows, and finally lost the fight with her floppy bandana as it fell to the floor. Luckily, a lovely woman in the front row offered her a hair tie. With her hair finally composed, Apple sang “Every Single Night” with confidence. It’s one of my personal favorites off the new album (The Idler Wheel…), and I loved how Apple’s voice epically climbed at the chorus alongside a grandiose chant from the bass drum. She tapered off at the end of the song, chillingly, honestly, beautifully.

It was difficult to escape the emotional tension of such a performance, but nonetheless her vocal eclipse was a gentle release into Blake Mills. Performers Apple and Mills had an alternating performance system, and Mills was up next.

MG_3534-1024x682I had never heard of Blake Mills prior to that night, and was eager for something new. As his bluesish ballad filled the room, I was struck by his performance. It enticed Apple to lean in blissfully across the huge standing bass drum, supporting the song with a steady beat.

I must admit, I was impressed yet left wanting more.

Apple returned to the forefront of the stage and my desires were fulfilled; Mills was still there to back her up. The duo broke into her uplifting single and tour moniker, “Anything We Want.” The best part about it was the backing band, which really shined here as the crowd tuned right in, totally attentive.

Apple added percussion to the happy instrumentation, as if it were the last puzzle piece to complete the song.

It was enough joy for me, and I let Mills take his turn at the limelight while I surveyed the atmosphere. I noticed the audience of friends and lovers seated below me, and audiophiles who were pleased and purified by the performance.

I was suddenly awakened by Apple, who covertly took the stage in the middle of my stupor. Apple delved into her next song, “Regret,” which was arguably one of the more poignant performances of the night. Apple’s raw emotion at the chorus, when she belted her maddened poetry, moved me. It reflected, what I thought, was the psychological toll of the tour. Earlier in her tour, Apple made headlines when a heckler had criticized her health and appearance. She hadn’t taken it well and it seemed to show in her demeanor throughout the evening.

MG_3533-1024x682For all Apple’s grief, Mills followed up with an encouraging single, “It’ll All Work Out.” Apple again supported on rhythm, using the bass drum and harmonizing sweetly on vocals.  It was another slow performance from Mills, and it left me still wondering whether I enjoyed it. Although the song was catchy and clever on its own, it was overshadowed by Apple’s previous performance.  However, I do believe Mills has a strong future and the potential to write more engaging songs.

Apple, on the other hand, was consistent in her performance. Despite her experience with the heckler, she made efforts to banter with the audience.

“You know what would be funny?” quizzed Apple to her fans, “If somebody lip-synced to a piano but really played the piano.”

Though the audience laughed, Mills didn’t get it. He apologized for missing the point and blamed it on being “a typical guy.”

“There is no typical guy,” Apple rebutted.

Though not your typical performer, Apple continued to outshine Mills for the remainder of the evening. Other highlights included a Conway Twitty cover, “It’s Only Make Believe,” and her finale song “Waltz (Better than Fine)” off her record Extraordinary Machine.

And “Waltz” was an honest way to end the night. Apple thanked her fans and hugged those closest to the stage, paying extra appreciation to the girl who gave her the hair tie. She seemed to regrettably tear herself away as she hurried off stage.

I departed from my nosebleeder seat, still feeling the hum of the bass drum resonating in the theater, and proceeded out satisfied into the bohemian night.

Article by Jade Theriault

Photography by Sarah Wight

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