She seems like a woman/child lost in the promised land of pop stardom.
On stage, Fiona Apple, 19, plays the role of sultry waif -- blessed and burdened with talent and torment.
Apple, fashionably thin, with deep blue eyes, thick red lips and a vulnerable psyche, seemed right at home Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of about 1,600 in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts on the North Campus.
She is part Peggy Lee, part Tori Amos and all original. Apple has been able to make the jazzy, torch singer persona relevant to the '90s. She proved that to the packed crowd during a performance of "Shadowboxer."
Apple sat at a piano and let loose a cool, sexy vocal, reminiscent of Julie London in all her '50s cocktail lounge prime. Apple, however, flaunts a contemporary, spunky kind of liberated female ideology.
On "Criminal," Apple purred her way through a nasty
number with the following lyrics: "I've been a bad, bad girl/I've been careless with a delicate man/And it's a sad world/When a girl will break a boy/Just because she can."
Apple expressed another side of relationships on "Sleep to Dream." This is a tale of a strained relationship, and Apple stakes the right to her own life with these words: "This mind, this body, and this voice, cannot be stifled by your deviant ways/So don't forget what I told you, don't come around, I got my own hell to raise."
The irony of the evening was not lost on Apple, who noted those who came missed a chance to see her on the taped telecast of the VH1 fashion awards. A few weeks earlier, Apple made an embarrassing and apparently self-serving speech at the MTV Awards.
"Everyone gave me a lot of s--- for what I said on MTV, but the hell with them," Apple said as she stood near center stage, wearing a cut-off blouse, a tight black skirt, with black slacks underneath. "But I got to tell you about the VH1 fashion awards. I won an award for most stylish video."
The crowd of mostly college students roared with approval. "Oh, by the way, my shoes fell apart," Apple said. Then she kicked up her heel to reveal an old pair of worn shoes. "I'll show my sandals; see they're falling apart."
"That's OK, Fiona, I love you," a young male shouted out.
Apple smiled and continued talking. "So you came to see the fashionable Fiona Apple. Well, you know something, I wore a rag to the VH1 fashion awards -- and I won. CNN and Vogue thought I was the best dressed. Shows you what they know; so ---- them."
That tirade was typical Fiona: adolescent, scatter-shot and cool. Apple's music is more complex and revealing. At times, she seems like a younger version of Alanis Morissette but what sets Apple apart is here mature, jazz-influenced sound, which tempers her sometimes immature attitude.
She presents a radiant figure in performance and exudes stylish sex appeal. During the songs, Apple would stand in front of her band, and do a kind of robotic belly dance, stiff but sensual. She would move, at times, like a go-go dancer from the '60s as she tossed her long mane of curly auburn hair into the air while shaking her head along with the beat.
Apple paid respect to her musical influences during the show, covering numbers by Jimmy Cliff and Jimi Hendrix. Her own music, however, was the most poignant of the evening.
Apple may be young, but she speaks and sings from heart based on experience. She has said she was raped at age 11. Her life is an open book; this woman has grown up fast and hard.
Despite all those problems, there is something wonderfully adolescent and naive about Apple's performance. She's still new to this game of rock concerts and lacks the polish and stage demeanor of a seasoned performer.
Apple gets giddy and giggly as she chats to an audience during a show. "Feel free to laugh at me," a nervous and fast-talking Apple blurted out at one point of the concert.
Apple's music makes up for her uneasy attitude at live shows. Her understated power radiates from the stage and in her songs. Such numbers as "Sullen Girl," "The First Taste" and "Slow Like Honey," were delivered with a clenched-fist force that grabbed the audience and wouldn't let go.
It was enough to make you forget, at least momentarily, that this young performer has a lot of growing up to do.