Live Review & Photos: Fiona Apple and Best Coast at Independence Jam, September 16, 2012

Photos by Chris Maroulakos

Music-loving San Diegans migrated north for FM 94/9’s annual Independence Jam festival in Oceanside on Sunday.

Holding the event in September instead of the customary June may not have done any favors for the patriotic theme, but what the festival lacked in timeliness it made up for in talent. Up-and-comers Gardens & Villa and Oberhofer got the crowd warmed up with their energetic turns, then Best Coast played a pleasant but unambitious set for the crowd.

But as the last echoes of sunlight faded over the Pacific, it was time for the real draw: Ms. Fiona Apple. Hot on the heels of her triumphant new album, The Idler Wheel…, the pianist and her band launched into pitch-perfect renditions of crowd favorites like “Extraordinary Machine,” “Every Single Night,” and “Sleep to Dream.”

Apple’s music can be at once forlorn and hopeful, and her stage persona was no less paradoxical. In person, she had a forceful yet fragile presence, evoking both the assured genius and emotionally exposed artist that comprise her legend. She seemed distant at first, as if she weren’t very invested in the show, but there was always a spark in her eyes that betrayed the spinning wheels behind her stoic facade.

As the performance went on, the waifish songwriter made good use of her impressive vocal range, ricocheting between husky lows and wispy highs without ever seeming like she was showing off. She seemed to taste every bitter lyric before letting it escape her mouth, her face displaying a rapid Rolodex of emotions as she relived each sour muse.

Apple may have been the belle of the ball, but her backing band — which included Blake Mills on guitar — proved just as fetching. In contrast to the wet-behind-the-ears opening acts, her players knew the importance of negative space, allowing the silences between the notes to stretch out and yawn. Thanks to Mills and Co., Apple’s carefully orchestrated arrangements sounded every bit as deliberate and pristine as on her records.

With her band providing the solid foundation, Apple was free to flit about the stage, swooning at the piano one moment, gesticulating behind the microphone the next. All the while, the poetry of her lyrics beckoned the crowd into dark, troubled waters that rippled from the skipped stones of her pervasive wit. The result was a striking, complex, and moving performance that made a strong case for Fiona Apple’s artistic independence being the true national treasure.

Photos – Fiona Apple at Independence Jam

Photos – Best Coast at Independence Jam

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