Spektor exhilarates with classical eccentricity
There are masters of form and breakers of rules - both can be exhilarating. And then there are those rare birds like Regina Spektor, who is both.
The Russian-born, New York-based singer-songwriter blurs the line between advanced songcraft and deep eccentricity. She writes novelty tunes about music box figurines that echo Ravel's "Bolero" and end with the sound of the singer gagging. She's a classically trained artist who plays piano with one hand and bashes on a chair with the other. Spektor fills lovely ballads with ugly noises, and radio anthems with unsingable choruses. Her music is a study in brilliantly balanced colors, as vivid and pointed as the artist was to look at: white skin, blue dress, orange eye shadow, red lips.
It takes no small bit of confidence to walk on stage and start singing. But Spektor seems even more self-possessed than she did a year ago at Avalon, where she performed with a small band; this time around she brought no one, but she added a bit of rhythm to her a cappella opener, "Ain't No Cover," by tapping on the microphone next to her mouth. Near the end of the set Only Son, the opening act, materialized to beatbox on "Hotel Song," and that was as lush as the accompaniment would get during this solo performance, which felt like a show of power.
Pop tunes like "Better" and "Fidelity" begged for the swirl and propulsion of a rhythm section. But Spektor is formidable enough as a singer and a writer to hold court on her own. The songs aren't just pleasing collections of notes and words; they have big personalities, and so does Spektor. For all her command as a vocalist, she never sounded studied or stiff. She sounded like a real weirdo.
The sold-out crowd cheered her fearlessness. The ill-fitting but evocative vocal coda on "Sailor Song" drew heartier applause than a pretty gospel-flavored song like "Field Below," one of Spektor's few forays into conventional fare. They sang along, hard as it was, with "That Time," a stream-of-consciousness punk tune that Spektor played on one string of her guitar.
Exactly how that scrappy little song can feel of a piece with an elegant meditation like "The Flowers" and "Apres Moi," an opulent drama sung in three languages, and the show-closing pop gem "Samson" -- Spektor's updated Bible hero snacks on Wonder bread and admires his haircut -- is something of a marvel, and testament to the artist's uncommon, utterly gratifying gifts.