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In The Flesh

Fiona Apple is touring theaters this summer, happily removed from the furor that surrounded the leak, remix and eventual, actual release of 2005's Extraordinary Machine, a controversy that always seemed to me to be driven mostly by Internet nerds. Live, however, Apple's music is removed from the backstory. She gets ownership of it again and delivers it with rawer, richer vocals. Of course, with Apple, there's always a theatrics quotient. Metro Times listings editor Eve Doster and I watched the pawns hit the conflicts. —Johnny Loftus

Loftus: From the vantage point of its topmost balcony, unable to see most of the crowd below us, I occasionally felt like I wasn't at the State Theatre, but instead watching one of Apple's performances at the Largo in Los Angeles, floating above it all on some sort of classy magic carpet. Especially because, live, her strengths are so enhanced. I loved the rawness in her voice when she hit the stronger notes.

Eve Doster: Absolutely. I felt a little hamstrung at moments, though. To be relegated to a mezzanine seat, while a sometimes crazed, often seemingly possessed Fiona writhed, pounded and stomped was kind of distressing. It felt voyeuristic.

Loftus: Voyeuristic is right on, particularly because she doesn't hesitate to writhe. I couldn't help but smirk a little at times, because we've been conditioned to think that, when performers make moves like that, they're usually the goofy theater-major performance-art types. You know —"I'm so into this, watch me urinate on my shoe and dance a jig." But with Fiona I felt like that's truly her live style, and she doesn't give a shit — or maybe even know — what people think of it.

Doster: Now that's where I kind of disagree. And I can cite the very moment I began to feel like she was yanking my chain. She shared some lukewarm anecdote about how on the bus that afternoon she thought she saw the boy who "Slow like Honey" was written about. She was silly and mawkish about the story, but, as the music started, she instantly fell to the stage in a semi-fetal position, body listless, hair falling into her face. I felt like she was almost, like, hitting her mark, you know? It's evocative as hell and those songs and that voice are genuine. But like everyone else, she's got a shtick.

Fiona's that girl in high school who was popular, but always isolated. Girls like that were always tragic and dour. Truth is, I always wanted to be that girl, and my boyfriend always wanted to sleep with that girl. Scratch that, make that "boyfriends." All men pine for Fiona in secret.

Loftus: Apparently there are a lot of women who secretly want her too — there was a pretty significant lesbian contingent at that show. My date was propositioned in the bathroom.

Doster: Fiona liberates women the same way Janis Joplin did. She's not afraid to make people uncomfortable. She makes a point of it. That'll garner the respect of most any modern woman.

Loftus: But do you think there's a line between Fiona making people uncomfortable with her lyrics and attitude, and that "hitting her marks" quality you were describing earlier? Can we separate out the true emotion and vigor in her songs from the "performing" side of her act, or is everything entwined?

Doster: The two aren't mutually exclusive. It's entertainment. It's intellectual and artful, but it's entertainment nonetheless. Not to wank philosophical, but there are degrees to how well a person can submit to the muse. The reality is that if she knows she's being observed, there's an element of pandering. That's all I mean.

Loftus: Let's talk about those dudes in her band. They were some slick L.A. guys, I'm sure — perfect sideman sense. But I thought they breathed life into Apple's songs appropriately, which sometimes those professional types can't do.

Doster: If it wasn't for the Fiona Apples of the world, those kinds of super-talented musicians would starve.

Loftus: There were two huge tour buses outside the State. I bet Fiona has her own, and then all those dudes have to pile in the other.

Doster: One bus was for Fiona, the other was for her sadness.

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