Weather-wise, I got lucky. Mid-August evenings in this part of the world can be balmy, stormy or just plain hot. Saturday was cool and dry, and the only hot stuff was going on at the Mann Music Center with Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple on Saturday night.
Nickel Creek is on some sort of a farewell tour and their friend Fiona is along for a genre-bending experience as she turns her angst-ridden tunes into angst-ridden bluegrass. In some ways, it makes perfect sense. Nickel Creek uses the lighter than air sound to convey serious and sometimes morbid thoughts and Fiona is sometimes just plain morbidly serious. On the surface, you'd think it wouldn't work, but in actuality, it works just fine.
Nickel Creek's Chris Thile said, "I think people get confused about what makes a good collaboration." One would tend to want to put bluegrass bands with bluegrass bands and pop acts with pop acts, when in actuality it's the kind of musician, not the kind of music [that matters]. I feel like Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple are actually fairly ideally suited to one another, so it's been really fun. And her music is very well conceived, and well-conceived music always works in a variety of formats."
Fiona was billed as a "Special Guest", and the show opened with Nickel Creek alone. Fiona emerged later for a few tunes, then again after the intermission to close the show. Cries of "Where's Fiona?" came when she disappeared and the Apple Corps got restless.
I was there for Fiona, and I only know a few Nickel Creek tunes, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Quality is also something that works in a variety of formats, and when you put five great musicians on a stage together, something great usually happens. Sometimes shows are better if the music isn't something you've sung in your head a thousand times. Even Fiona's songs, that I knew well, sounded different with the acoustic bass, mandolin, violin and acoustic guitar accompaniment. Songs like "Extraordinary Machine" are built for such backing, but others like "Criminal" take on a new life.
They covered Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" and several tunes from Fiona's Extraordinary Machine. Nickel Creek's "When in Rome", "Sabra Girl", "The Lighthouse's Tale" and "Anthony" (how'd I remember that?) I knew. Otherwise, don't ask which songs they did, because I don't know. A lot of that bluegrass stuff sounds the same to me. It's good music, but I often can't tell one jig from another. They closed with the standard, "You Belong to Me."
Fiona withheld most of her expressionism, (although I understand that in another show, she playfully bit Sara on the arm) merely spinning around and whirling dervish hair spinning that, in this forum, seemed a bit of an over-reaction given the night's airy music. There was a lot of air because, sadly, the show didn't sell very well. The Mann is small to begin with, and at best I think it was half-full. The crowd seemed to be divided between Fiona fans and Nickel Creek fans, so I'm guessing that most Fiona fans were not willing to sit through an evening of bluegrass to see her, which points out the narrow-mindedness of some music fans.