First Night: Fiona Apple, Apollo Theatre, London

Bundle of talent from the Big Apple produces a captivating performance from a bundle of talent from the Big Apple
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The Independent Culture

The welcome is near rapturous, but then this is Fiona Apple's first UK show in six years. The New York-born singer-songwriter has been supporting Coldplay in the US, but her sound is less radio friendly than that might suggest.

Like its two predecessors, Apple's latest album, Extraordinary Machine, is almost entirely comprised of quirky, mid-tempo piano songs. It's the kind of fare that could sound stodgy were her band not so adept at splitting the rhythmic atom, and were Apple herself not such a captivating performer.

Still possessed of supermodel looks, she takes the stage in a floor-length blue dress before spending the first four songs seated at the piano. The opener, "Get Him Back", is accompanied by little bounces on her piano stool, while during "Shadow Boxer", a gorgeous, slowly weaving waltz, her voice segues between an unnerving rasp, a liquid falsetto and a rapid-fire vibrato.

As Apple brushes aside a curtain of brown-blonde hair to reveal perfect cheekbones, you find yourself disarmed by the double whammy that is beauty plus talent. With no irreverent, unpredictable electric guitars messing up the mix, moreover, every line she sings can be heard perfectly.

Here and there her keyboard players, David Palmer and Jebin Bruni, take over at the piano. Standing at the microphone, Apple is a ball of dress-tugging, hair-pulling energy, her itchy feet sometimes moving in a zombie-like dance that involves jittery steps to random points of the compass.

In pools of silence between songs - amazingly, all mobiles seem to have been switched off - Apple can be heard whispering "Oh my God!", or breathing deeply as though trying to calm herself. The conviction she brings to "To Your Love" and "Get Gone" seems to take a lot out of her, her performance fully lived-in though both are older songs she must have sung a thousand times.

Most of her material concerns that old devil called love, its travails, false starts and twisted endings. In "Red, Red, Red", a slow-evolving ballad with a synthesised backdrop that sounds like the wind whistling through the wires, Apple makes it clear that she wants to be wooed with imagination: "What's so impressive about a diamond except the mining?", she sings, clearly less smitten by bling than Monroe or Bassey.

Elsewhere, too, her lyrics have winning simplicity and originality, and never more so than on "Parting Gift", which she closes with alone, seated back at the piano. "I opened my eyes when you were kissing me once... / and you looked as sincere as a dog", she croons. It makes for an intimate, gently humorous encore, and had she subsequently asked us to roll over and play dead, I, for one, would have done so.

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