Perhaps the stresses of New York City no longer agree with singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, whose charming and otherwise impressive show on Friday at the Wiltern bore no signs of the frustrated young lady who stormed off the stage mid-perf at her most recent, much discussed Gotham gig a few weeks ago.
Just as Apple, 22, has made great creative strides with her second album, last year’s superb “When the Pawn…” (Clean Slate/Epic/Sony), so too has she emerged from the anxiety and lack of confidence that hampered many of her past concerts, including an unsatisfying Universal Amphitheater show in 1997. (It did help that she said very little between the songs this time.)
Apple, seated at her piano, opened the show just as she does on “Pawn,” with “On the Bound” and “To Your Love,” two songs whose lyrics express extreme feelings of emotional vulnerability and alienation, as do most of her jazzy-pop compositions. “Hell don’t know my fury,” she sang, eyes closed, during the somber and powerful opener.
All 10 of the emotive songs from “Pawn” were offered on Friday, the first of two weekend shows in Koreatown for Apple, as well as four tracks from her 1996 entry “Tidal.” Many of the enjoyable show’s best moments came when Apple moved from her piano stool and sang and danced center stage, as on “Criminal” and the psychedelic rocker “Sleep to Dream.”
Her untamed dance moves during the latter song and the self-love ode “Fast as You Can,” with long hair and arms flying about, left the impression that Apple feels truly free only in these fits of stage rage.
Her impressive backing band — featuring guitar, bass, keyboard and vibraphone players — was highlighted by the always-solid drum work of Critters Buggin’ member Matt Chamberlain, whose excellent sense of rhythmic sensitivity brought much flavor to the mix.
Eighty-minute show’s only mentionable faux pas occurred during the two-song encore, when Apple tackled with little success the Cole Porter standard “Just One of Those Things,” trying but failing to fall in sympathetic step with the pre-recorded accompaniment. The finale of non-album track “Kissing” (“All I want to do is kiss and hug”) brought the show to a bright conclusion.