Fiona Apple and her band offered a soul-stirring performance Tuesday in Kleinhans Music Hall .
Much of the show featured material drawn from Apple’s most recent album, “The Idler Wheel …,” but even when the mercurial singer/pianist/songwriter drew from her back catalog, the performance was about the here and now.
Often, throughout Tuesday’s show, uncomfortably so.
Apple is an intense performer. She’s always been one, from her first emergence as the uber-talented siren behind her most commercially successful album, the 1996 effort “Tidal,” through her increasingly complex, textural, emotionally wrenching and more sporadically released “When the Pawn …” and “Extraordinary Machine” albums.
She’s clearly an even more intense performer these days, if Tuesday’s show is an indication. Throughout the evening, Apple seemed to pull the songs from a deep part of herself, by force, and not without a struggle.
Backed by an impeccable, thrillingly dynamic band, the singer turned in emotionally and physically committed performances.
Apple and band took the stage with “Fast as You Can,” one of several songs the singer performed at center stage, with only the microphone for company. Her rapid vibrato, clenched fists and almost disturbingly taut delivery set the tone for the remainder of the evening.
She hadn’t come to Kleinhans to play nice, to simply offer mellifluous takes on her best-loved songs, with a few token inclusions from the new album thrown in.
Right off, guitarist Blake Mills made his presence felt, as he did throughout the evening. Mills’ playing was a revelation, a striking marriage of post-modern tonalities and deeply melodic lines. He offered jarring but appropriate counterpoint to Apple all night long, earning exuberant applause from the crowd in the process.
Apple’s first hit, “Shadow-boxer,” was delivered in the form of an ominous stomp, the singer squeezing emotional resonance from her phrasing with virtuosic skill.
The crowd, silent throughout the disarmingly in-your-face performances, erupted between songs with declarations of “I love you, Fiona” and the like, earning the occasional grin from the otherwise straight-faced singer.
“Paper Bag” was one of several songs that highlighted the significant contributions of former Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg, who traded between electric and acoustic upright bass throughout the evening, lending both swank and swing to the rhythm section.
“Extraordinary Machine,” following a deeply dramatic front-of-stage delivery from Apple, evolved into a face-melter of a jam session, as Mills ripped through a emotionally piqued solo on a baritone electric, like some strangely incredible blend of Wilco’s Nels Cline and King Crimson-era Adrian Belew.
The newest material offered Apple and her band an opportunity to delve into an earthy, primal stew of howling electric post-blues that on occasion echoed P.J. Harvey’s early scorcher “Rid of Me.” Apple didn’t so much sing these songs as attempt to perform exorcisms on them, as if she were hell-bent on purging herself of their power over her. One couldn’t help but feel the power of the music – on an intellectual level, based on its harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness, but on a wholly visceral, emotional level, too.
“Thank you for having me here,” she said near show’s end, looking around the Music Hall with an air of awe, no doubt encouraged by the pristine and suitably resonant acoustic properties of Kleinhans.
The pleasure was certainly ours.
Tuesday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall, Symphony Circle.