In the movie Shame, Michael Fassbender’s character Brandon brings his boss to the Boom Boom Room, one of two clubs at The Top of The Standard hotel, to see a performance by Carey Mulligan, who plays his sister Sissy in the movie. Sissy is a bit of a mess and though she swears she has promise, it’s a see it to believe it moment, both of which, of course, Brandon does. He cries as she sings “New York, New York,” which she has reworked into somewhat of a dirge. It’s a brutal moment. Most of it’s Sissy, but some of it’s the room—picture windows looking into Manhattan, black with lots of orange wood. The bar is shaped like a droopy hourglass and there are pretty lights everywhere. It would be difficult, if you are generally not bad at emoting, to give people a crummy time here. Not that it was exactly the same last night for Fiona Apple—in the Shame world there is silence and seats, an old fashioned jazz club meets expensive drinks and an opulence teetering towards the right end of good taste. The decor may have been the same, but when there is a real star present, most crowds, no matter how elite, show their deference by turning into a huddled mass and last night was no exception.
The jamming of patrons was one of the first things a fairly chatty Apple commented on, though it was less ridiculous that everyone was smooshed into such a small space to see her and more a marker of her equalizing strength, something Sissy is some ways away from. Everyone loves Fiona Apple because everyone loves someone who has a confusing, weird relationship with their own power. What could be a better narrative? And she tells it very well. Coming onstage shrouded in fabrics of various colors, Apple, along with her five-piece band, launched into a hyperactive version of “Fast as You Can,” from her sophomore album, When the Pawn. She moved erratically in a way that looked less from divine inspiration and more just for fun. Her voice has gotten grittier than it was in 1999 and it worked well with the song’s pep. Before she finished that first song, one of the bartenders grabbed an iPhone photo. So did everyone else. “The flash doesn’t bother me,” Apple said. “Carry on, I will just have a seizure.” Then she said, tonight, it really didn’t matter. That defined the tenor of the set, not angry but aggressive. She said more than once that she wished she had a telescope to spy on the city. Her eyes looked alternately like death rays and black holes. She spent a lot of time doing things with her hair. Oddly, she only sang one new song, “Anything We Want.” It was great. During the long instrumental section that ended “Sleep to Dream,” one of her earliest hits, she writhed around in front of the piano. At one point, she turned from the crowd, either to one of her drummers, the view or both. You could see her smile in the window’s reflection. Then she went back to writhing. But when the song ended, she turned to the crowd and smiled again. People were hooting. “What are you guys talking about?” she asked the crowd, puckered her lips like a duck. “I hear they have the best conversations at the Boom Boom Room.” When she walked offstage no one even tried to will her back for an encore.