Fiona Apple returned to Chicago Tuesday, stopping by the Bank of America Theater with Blake Mills for their collaborative “Anything We Want” tour. The show started with Apple and drummer Barabara Gruska scrawling in time on a chalkboard, “Teach Me How to Be Free.” Free from musical convention? The weight of expectation? Loudmouth jerks? “If there are any assholes out there, shut up,” Apple joked. The tightly played set was all but unfettered yet imbued with a levity we haven’t seen in her previous performances.
The 90-minute set included numbers from each of Apple’s albums as well as new material like the twangy “Tipple” and “I Want You to Love Me” which culminated in a percussive maelstrom. Whether keeping the beat banging sticks against her neck or thighs to “Anything We Want,” white-knuckle grasping the mic stand during “Every Single Night” or hopping up and down during the “Dull Tool” refrain, it was the visceral performance we’ve come to expect from Apple that draws an emotional tension and leaves the audience holding its breath. “How am I supposed to have my meltdowns?” “I don’t do Twitter” she joked as the crowd offered continued admiration.
The balance of the beautifully crafted evening is owed to Apple’s band. Mills and upright bassist Sebastian Steinberg teased Apple between mild outbursts. The co-headliners intently watched one another play, as intrigued with each performance as the audience. Mills’ folk-rooted numbers offered an equilibrium to temper the fidgety songstress. Apple was content to curl over a bass drum while the singer-songwriter played “If I’m Unworthy” and “It’ll All Work Out.” A renowned session guitarist, Mills swapped guitars from song to song. He provided the only match for Apple’s heart-breaking vocal bravado during a cover of “It’s Only Make Believe” with string work that growled and wailed making our hair stand on end for a highlight of the evening.
The foursome closed out the evening with “Waltz,” Apple proclaiming to be “better than fine” as she jangled bells purchased on eBay from someone in the audience. At one point in the show Mills attempted a social experiment challenging the crowd not to clap after a number. True to the spirit of doing anything we want, the eruption was inevitable. As one audience member announced “We couldn’t help it.”