Words by: Andrew Bruss :: Images by: Amanda Ryan Albion
Nickel Creek & Fiona Apple :: 08.17.07
Bank of America Pavilion :: Boston, MA
When Nickel Creek announced their plans to collaborate with Fiona Apple on their "Farewell (For Now) Tour" it seemed as though both parties were sure to face criticism from alienated fans. In the past, artists like Herbie Hancock have dealt with fan-bred criticism for working with outsiders like Christina Aguilera and Aerosmith pissed-off a decent percentage of their old-school fans by rocking out with Britney Spears during the 2001 super bowl halftime show. However, when Nickel Creek announced their plans to tour with Apple, to the amazement of many, critics were silent, and the announcement was embraced with a legitimate degree of intrigue.
| Nickel Creek & Fiona Apple :: 08.17 :: Boston|
Fiona Apple has always stood true to her values, and to clump her into the same category as Aguilera or Spears would be slanderous. For fans of the stringed trio, the incorporation of Apple's soul-heavy, pseudo-psychedelic vocals could have easily been a turnoff, but when Nickel Creek came through Boston with Apple, the show offered their undersold but hyper-engaged audience a taste of the audiological concoction that's brewed when their distinctive sounds are meshed together.
The night started with a Nickel Creek segment, sans-Apple, that began with a mellow tune called "Big Sam." As the group moseyed around, mandolin player Chris Thile embraced a self-induced trance, as though his 8-string was a trained hypnotist. Thile is renowned as one of the leading players in his field, and deservingly so. What shone the brightest about his style was his virtuosic sense of exploration, which he managed to check with a qualitative sense of timing that kept things short and to the point. As he masterfully engaged his instrument, fiddle player Sara Watkins took several leads that showcased her speed and grace. The next song, "The Fox," picked up the tempo drastically and drew the audience into their performance in a much more participatory manner.
| Chris Thile - Nickel Creek :: 08.17 :: Boston|
While Creek's set progressed, the impact Apple's presence would make on the group seemed to be on the mind of every ticket holder. Not only were folks curious about the material that would be performed, but her mere presence was a wild card. Low and behold, about 45 minutes into Creek's performance, Apple took the stage to work into the title cut from her Extraordinary Machine release. Following that, they brought things to full force with a cover of Gillian Welch's "I Want To Sing That Rock and Roll" which found a middle ground for their respective fan demographics.
As Creek and Apple kicked into her classic "A Mistake," what began to show was the positive impact Apple's stage presence had on the rest of the group. When Thile and Co. did their thing prior to Apple it was all about instrumental prowess, and while technically proficient, the performance came off rather dull. As soon as Apple began howling into the mic and flailing around, her vibe became contagious. Breaking from his mandolin-infused hypnosis, Thile began rocking out like a madman. His bluegrass roots were overpowered by a Pete Townshend-like sideman persona. In fact, one felt they might witness some of the first windmills ever performed on the mandolin.
| Fiona Apple :: 08.17 :: Boston|
Unfortunately, no windmills were delivered. However, as Thile's energy increased, Apple made sure to keep up. Like a cat backed into a corner, Apple's voice reverberated with pain and victimization. The affect on stage was mellow at times but the aggression she dished out offered everyone an understanding behind what fuels her art. Between songs, her stage banter had an anxious tone where she seemed unsure of herself or the comments she was making. When a new song began her anxiety evaporated, replaced by a confident air of intensity that showed in her singing and dancing.
Following an intriguing 45-minute collaboration, Apple left the stage to Nickel Creek. This time around, their post-Apple set carried more of a somber mood that seemed fitting for a farewell tour. After another chunk of standalone Creek tunes - "Scotch and Chocolate," "When In Rome," and "House Carpenter" - Apple came out for a short run highlighted by her hit, "Criminal," before everyone took a final bow.
For most bands, a farewell tour is a time of reflection and a final chance to say goodbye to their fans. However, amidst the depressive psychology that goes hand-in-hand with saying goodbye, Nickel Creek was still eager to break new ground and offer their fans something new and exciting. The exploratory energy the group harnessed with Apple is at the core of all their material. The fact they brought it on the road with them to "say goodbye" says more than meets the eye.
| Watkins & Thile :: 08.17 :: Boston|
Both Apple and Creek were working well outside of their comfort zones to maximize the potential of the collaboration, and the effort this took helped make the show memorable. This pairing, for better or worse, stands to be a large part of their farewell. As much as fans may have enjoyed a Coventry-esque farewell, marked by goodbyes and onstage sob-fests, Creek's farewell consisted of a simple message of artistic innovation. By closing a string of their final dates with Fiona Apple they subtly assured their fans that whatever comes next on their journey is sure to be creative, exploratory and innovative. And with a goodbye that powerful nothing else needs saying.
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