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Ripe Apple

Young Fiona Apple proves to be a seasoned performer at the Edge in Palo Alto

By Bernice Yeung

Fiona Apple is a pop-music phenomenon, albeit one that couldn't sell enough tickets to warrant a show at the cavernous San Jose State University Event Center. Still, the 19-year-old singer/songwriter attracted a solid following at her July 3 concert, which was moved to the more intimate Edge in Palo Alto.

The impatient line that wrapped around the building for her show consisted mostly of female fans who squealed with delight at Apple's feminism and her constant use of "fuck" during her onstage banter--and male fans mesmerized by her waiflike frame and seductive dancing. The older set was appreciative of Apple's jazz tendencies and her mature, sultry voice.

Whatever the initial attraction, Apple is a lesson in marketability: mysterious, sexy, strong and, yes, talented. The media certainly haven't ignored Apple. Spin, Details and the New York Times have profiled Apple, complete with somber stories of her being sexually assaulted as an 11-year-old.

Indeed, Apple's maturity and musical accomplishment at such a young age (she was writing songs as a form of self-induced psychotherapy at age 11) are quite unusual. And Apple, with her firm sense of chordal harmony (in minor keys, of course) and syncopated rhythms, is a piano-teacher's dream.

Likewise, her vocal prowess would please a voice instructor. And if her lyrics are a tad contrived, it might be because she was 15 when she wrote them--or perhaps because she wrote them to cure her own neurosis, not because she had any intention of winning a Grammy. You can forgive Apple for penning lyrics like "Oh, your love gives me a heart contusion/Adagio breezes fill my heart with sudden red," from the saucy, salsa-tempo "The First Taste," because she seems to be trying to express some sincere ideas.

And Apple is eager to explain the emotional background of each song during her shows, which are more than just live performances. Her concerts are also an opportunity for Apple to turn the tables and play psychotherapist. Between songs, Apple dispensed wisdom that could have been lifted from an advice column in Seventeen magazine.

"Wherever you go, whatever you do, whoever you're with, just be who you are," Apple said as an introduction to "Sleep to Dream." She had just finished telling the audience that she "doesn't give a fuck about the Fourth of July," though she observes "independence day," or the celebration of the individual, everyday.

Happy Moments

She also encouraged the audience to "stop trying to make things perfect" because out of every bad situation, there is a "happy moment" and "everything works out for the best in the end."

Apple even admitted that she lacked self-confidence. "I'm totally insecure," she said onstage in front of hundreds of people, "and anyone who says they're not is a fucking liar."

Apple's age may have been painfully obvious in such moments of self-indulgence, but once the music started, her youth became merely a detail. She captivated the audience with her 10-song artillery from the album Tidal and a bluesy rendition of Jimi Hendrix' "Sweet Angel." Even moody, turtle-paced songs such as "Pale September" and "Slow Like Honey" kept the crowd entranced, though such vocal-driven songs would have been more appropriate if played in a hotel lounge (with comfortable seating!).

Apple also proved to be a successful actress, feigning doe-eyed innocence in "Criminal" and venomed disgust in "Carrion." She even appeared to be completely shocked by her popularity when she climbed onto the stage. Despite the image of Apple as mature performer with a grown-up voice and grown-up experiences, she is really just a teenager who is still learning to deal with her past and its emotional repercussions. Being on stage gives her confidence, she says. Well, then, keep performing, Fiona. And happy independence day.

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