Fiona Apple/Damien Rice @ Central Park Summerstage 7/26/06

Someone please give Fiona a hug. While you’re at it, tell her it’s all gonna be alright. Because if you take her at her word on “On the Bound,” she believes that it isn’t. And if you’ve been ensnared by her tales of torment, on-stage breakdowns, and moments of raw genius over three-and-a-half albums, you’re likely unsure if she ever will be alright. Hell, you probably even think you can Photoshop a better Extraordinary Machine album cover than Sony.

Last night Fiona took Central Park’s Summerstage and turned it into a therapist’s couch. The set opened promisingly with the muscular two-chord vamp verse of “Get Him Back,” but with each passing line, the sultry songstress increasingly aired her inner turmoil; what were on-pitch growls in the studio were tossed off as broken yelps and exasperated sighs. Between song banter became unhinged rants, vaguely cohesive and accompanied by pained expressions and tortured body language. Between vocal lines, she’d argue with the night air, mic held by her waist, yelling and bobbing. Scarier still, I’m pretty sure it’s not an act. We stood transfixed — and vaguely concerned — but others sang along and laughed like drunks by a jukebox. Just goes to show, it?s a fine line between pathos and a party! (Maybe you guys have some insight? Thought the extreme angst was an act going in. Not so sure anymore.)

But Apple has so many amazing songs that — for as long as she eased on the catharsis ?- her set was genuinely engaging. She played it straight for “Shadowbox” and it rocked, while “Limp” and “Fast As You Can” were the sort of measured, limb-flailing madness television had made me expect. And EM?s “Oh Well” is one of the most inventive chord progressions you?ll hear in a straight, accessible pop song ?- and about as close to one as you?ll get from Fiona. We couldn?t get pics last night, but did find these on Flickr.

Photos by hightea (Flickr)

Roller girl hearts Fiona!

Opening for the Apple was Damien Rice and his sack of sensitive sighs.

Starting solo with “Cannonball” to a slew of “I love this song!”s, Rice then welcomed his band of cellist, hired-gun rhythm section and the incomparable Lisa Hannigan. (Though if comparisons could be drawn, I’d say a slightly strained set of Chan Marshall’s smoky pipes with a mix of early Alanis’s hand wringing demeanor.) Everything is better if she?s singing.

Damien used the night to share some of his post-O products. Not sure of the titles, but at least one should be called “The Blower?s Daughter 2.0.” Just throwing it out there, Damien. A few tunes fall back on those old tricks (unaccompanied Rice on guitar/piano for two minutes, enter cello and Lisa, enter rhythm section for four bars, and out with Rice?s pleading lyric set to silence), but others show Damien bringing out the rock. He even drops a few “f” bombs here and there — at first making the young crowd a little tense, and later drawing huge cheers with each repetition. (Let?s hear it for “fuck!”) Well, it?s an attempt at edge, and it just may draw some new fans. At the very least, it’ll speak to frat dudes who like their obscenities set to acoustic guitars. Wouldn?t be summer without ‘em!