Fiona Apple and Blake Mills, Mesa Arts Center, 9/18/12

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Fiona Apple and Blake Mills @ Mesa Arts Center|Tuesday, September 18

Singer/songwriter Fiona Apple has a reputation. Her public struggles with fame and her label give the impression that a Fiona Apple performance could fall apart at any moment.

But it never came close last night at Mesa Arts Center. Not when Apple was plumbing her emotional depths, not when she was muttering about her label not spending money on her new record, The Idler Wheel, not when she was discussing what "small-titted" girls can do with extra bra padding, not when she was cackling maniacally from behind her piano. No, Apple was in charge the whole time, though the crowd seemed willing to follow her anywhere she wanted to go.

See also: The Full Fiona Apple @ Mesa Arts Center Slideshow See also: Fiona Apple Knows the Secret's in the (Obsessive) Details See also: Blake Mills: Fiona Apple's Guitarist Makes Killer Pop on His Own

Apple's guitarist Blake Mills opened the evening with a set of subdued country soul. His 2010 record, Break Mirrors, is a more full-bodied pop album, but the opening slot found him complementing his songs with jazz and countrypolitan licks, his voice warm and present.

He was joined by bassist Sebastian Steinberg and drummer Amy Wood, and the two brought sparks to "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me," and a stunning slide-guitar rendition of Santo & Johnny's classic "Sleepwalk" (complete with a La Bamba-referencing intro, which led to at least one music critic shamelessly doing the "Richie! Not my Richie!" thing in his seat).

Mills got a chance to really flash his style once Apple sashayed on stage. Wearing a black maxi-dress with a tied-on magenta skirt, she looked something like a ballet teacher. She wasted no time getting raw, opening up with the funky "Fast As You Can," her 1999 single from When the Pawn...

The band was outstanding, backing up Apple's croons and shrieks, fading in and out of intense walls of sound. Drummer Wood could be barely there, like on the intro of "Paper Bag," or crashing and thundering. The band practically exploded during "Sleep to Dream," which found Mills soloing with Marc Ribot-fronts-OK Computer-era Radiohead abandon. It was awesome, and Apple heartily agreed, stomping around the stage and smiling.

Apple didn't say much, save for a couple murmurs that were completely drowned out by the roaring audience, and that thing about soundtracks, breasts, and shoes at the end, but her songs are plenty conversational. The Idler Wheel was well represented: "Werewolf," which finds the songwriter comparing herself to a full moon, was a highlight, as was the swooning "Periphery."

The crowd was in full-on party mode, with nearly every sparse second met by someone shouting "I love you Fiona!" A notable exception: during the tense silences of the backwards rockabilly of "Left Alone," there was nary a hoot or holler, just absolute quiet.

Apple has her struggles -- often in the open -- but there was nothing about last night's show that didn't find her in complete control. The crowd agreed, rising to their feet following her percussive display during "Daredevil" and the thrashing "Not About Love." Closing out with a stunning take on Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe," Apple reminded us about that voice, the reason that even a risky Fiona Apple show seems like a solid idea.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Fiona Apple and Blake Mills @ Mesa Arts Center Personal Bias: I like Apple's music a whole bunch, but I've always been extremely turned off by those long, rambling album titles. They feel like a joke played on music writers or the people at her label, like, "Hey, will you people actually type this whole thing? I bet you won't type this whole thing." The Crowd: Not bummed out about the lack of "Criminal," but clearly the kind of people who would have really wooooooooooooo-ed the hell out of it if Apple played it. "Jonathan" from Idler Wheel is Inspired by Fiona's Ex, Jonathan Ames: He's one of my favorite writers; I wonder what they're conversations are/were like. Talk About a Killer Band: What a tight group of players.


1. Fast as You Can 2. On the Bound 3. Shadowboxer 4. Paper Bag 5. Anything We Want 6. Get Gone 7. Periphery 8. Sleep to Dream 9. Extraordinary Machine 10. Werewolf 11. Left Alone 12. I Know 13. Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song) 14. Every Single Night 15. Daredevil 16. Not About Love 17. It's Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty)

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