First off, let me just say that Fiona Apple puts on one amazing show, and Dan Smalls Presents did a fantastic job getting this booking in Ithaca, NY!

Now, allow me to tell you that if you didn’t make it, or were anywhere air-conditioned, you may have been better off… It was oppressively hot in the venue. The fact that State Theater, as I came to find out firsthand and by the cute stage manager who works there, had no A.C. and only two fans for an almost sold out show, made for a sweaty, sticky evening. Seriously… You’d have thought hat/shirt/paper flapping was an Olympic event… It was a clambake in there… More like a basement punk show by comparison. I found myself spending a lot of time outside and in the lobby to “cool off.” If any independently wealthy and charitable types want to make an awesome venue more comfortable in the summer months, to the tune of half a million, call them up and ask for Carolyn… She’d really appreciate it!

Anyways, Ms. Apple’s long absence from the spotlight has not been in vain, as evidenced by her mesmerizing tour opener in Ithaca. But the fact that it was also the day her brand new album, and her first in 6 years, titled “The Idler Wheel,” dropped was the icing on the cake. An appearance at SXSW and a few select markets aside, she hasn’t been out in a long time, and it was very cool to see her in such a small city.

Opening with “Fast As You Can” to a very excited audience, the first five minutes were full of cheers, flashes, and singing along… The crowd ate it right up! Fiona was backed by a full five-piece band of very good musicians, who all did a phenomenal job providing every textural nuance necessary to complement Fiona’s unique delivery. Her low, deep voice captivated the crowd before she hopped over to the piano to fill in the rhythm, her body contorting as she pounded the keys.

A beautiful rendition of “Shadowboxer” early in the set was also met with great excitement, and the very cute “Extraordinary Machine,” title track off of her 2005 release, made an instant fan out of me at note one. She provided an excellent mix of tracks over the course of her 17-song set and, as you can imagine, the energy culminated as she lit into her breakthrough single “Criminal,” the last selection on her list. Check out the full set list, minus one of the encore tracks due to the heat, below.

Relatively new to her catalogue, besides the hits, I was impressed by how much tension and emotion she brings to her songs. Her tracks are very soulful and heartfelt, but in a dark, twisted kind of way. Her contortions and onstage movements were both frantic and rife with insecurity… She really gets into it and puts on a hell of a show for her fans. At times she looked uncomfortable and awkward on stage, but her cute gestures and spastic movements made for a very engaging performance. I’d be interested to see what she’d do if commissioned to score a comically bleak and twisted drama.

Though the sound and acoustics in the room are very good and you could hear her sing well, I had a bit of trouble hearing some of her banter between tracks. Sounding a bit raspy during some of her songs, I’d bet it was either intended, or a direct result of energy expenditure and heat fatigue. Even she acknowledged the obnoxiously hot venue, wondering if anything else was done to cool the air. The audience was well-behaved and mostly sitting down for the duration of her performance, the exception being a few wallflowers and a busy concession stand. The merchandise booth was slightly hidden on the first tier of steps, and I can’t help but think many people missed their opportunity to purchase memorabilia.

Her band kept complete composure while they played, providing a nice backdrop, feel and dynamic. I’m certain they were having as much fun as the audience during the tunes. It seems impossible not to when you hear the arrangements. They did a great job!

Due to traffic, I was only able to catch the final two songs of opener Blake Mills. Performing as a two-piece with an upright bassist, he played his bluesy acoustic songs to a mostly filled venue, the audience seated and chattering away.

Thanking Fiona for friendly words of encouragement, he kept it lighthearted and short while onstage, jokingly stating she really didn’t say anything to laughter. When engaged by an overly warm audience member, he shouted out “It’s hot up here too, bro.”

Ending with his favorite Ritchie Valens song from the movie “Labamba,” he turned the song into a flowing reinvention with his slide guitar, but the incessant talking in the crowd slightly drowned him out from where I was standing. As happens most of the time with opening acts, the crowd wasn’t here for him.

Set List:

Fast as you can

On the bound

Shadowboxer

Paper bag

Anything we want

Get gone

Werewolf

Sleep to dream

Extraordinary machine

Tymps

Daredevil

I know

Every single night- fun as well

Not about love

Carrion

Criminal

So sleepy

Make believe