Portland Center Stage Does Right By the Harlem Renaissance Musical
Welcome to the Future!
Perhaps you've read accounts of Fiona Apple's show at the Newmark Theatre last night (Robert Ham has a good one on Stereogum). I don't want to dwell on the horrible last 10 minutes of the show when a solitary heckler body-shamed Fiona Apple, because Apple and her incredible band played an amazing set, and to obsess over the last mortifying scene—when Portland transformed into a pitchfork-wielding mob of petulant preschoolers—would be to take away from the intimate and goofy and powerful set that these musicians so kindly worked their asses off to give to us. So let's try to remember the good parts—all 90 percent of the evening—because I sincerely doubt Fiona Apple will ever grace us with her presence again. Thanks, dickbag hecklers. Yes, even you well-wishers. Learn how to go to a show. It involves shutting your flaptraps and letting the talented people show you what they got. They most definitely don't need any help from you.
I saw Apple's electrifying show at the Schnitzer last summer and was blown away. It is handily in my top-five concerts of all time. She was riveting on stage, complete with wacky banter, and nailing every song as she dipped into her back catalog. It was powerful and fierce and full of raw emotion. This time out on tour, Apple has teamed up with frequent collaborator Blake Mills for a smaller and more intimate performance. The venue was cozier, the smudged chalkboard on stage added a whimsical, down-home spin, and the forbidden use of cell phones was meant to get us all fixed in the moment. Apple had a lot of nervous energy on the stage, cradling percussive doodads that she plucked from her toy chest of sounds, then ambling to the bass drum, where she slung herself, back to the piano bench, which she arched over backward. She was like a kid with boundless, unfocused energy. Until the songs started. Then she lasered in.
Fiona Apple is a genius. If she wants to walk around with an armful of gourds, then by all means. Once the first notes dropped, her powerful voice kicked in and the jitters melted away. She ripped through "Every Single Night," "Regret," and added a beautiful duet piece to Mills' very funny "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me." She killed "Dull Tool," and watched as Mills sang solo and played guitar (from his huge cache of guitars). As soon as it came down to the business of displaying her musical fortitude, Apple was a consummate professional. Honestly, I don't think her voice has ever sounded better. Gal can sing paint off walls. For all her silliness, Apple knows when she's clowning, like when she gently sparred with Mills over which one of them might grudgingly like Billy Joel, or when she let herself be the cobra to Mills' sexy snake-charming guitar solo. She was goofing, just like she set out to do at the start of the show. Couple that with Mills' stable and calm presence and fantastic accompaniment from bassist Sebastian Steinberg and drummer Barbara Gruska, and I'd say this show easily rivaled last July's house-on-fire performance. You know, until some jerk opened their mouth in the balcony.
More photos from the show by Jesse Champlin after the jump. And the last word I'm going to say about "helpful" hecklers.
I could hardly sleep last night thinking about what went down at the Newmark. It's a classy place—in fact I was telling photographer Jesse Champlin how civilized it all felt when we walked in. It's the home of a $10 cup of wine, for Christ's sake. But how one "helpful" heckler humiliated a musician that we all paid $60 to see was the grossest, most-low-down, embarrassing thing I have ever seen in our city. I was mortified. We were all mortified. Perhaps if everyone had shut their goddamn mouths after that lone voice from the balcony had screamed out, Fiona would've had the chance to gather herself and suffer her hurt feelings in private. But that didn't happen.
I don't want to step on Barbara Holm's toes with her weekly "My Least Favorite Piece of Misogyny This Week" column, but last night was mine. You can bet your bottom dollar that no one ever heard the following heckled at a concert:
"Get healthy, David Bowie, we want to see you in 10 years... You used to be beautiful."
"Get healthy, Iggy Pop, we want to see you in 10 years... You used to be beautiful."
Nope. Not something that gets yelled at dudes.