Concert review of Regina Spektor

Concert review by Andrew Heather - 10 February 2007

Regina Spektor in ConcertWaiting for hours in the (closed) bar and freezing surroundings of the Bristol Trinity Club might not be everyone's idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday. In truth it's not mine either but, when you're trying to steal an un-booked interview with a rising young talent like that of Regina Spektor, these are the lengths one has to go to.

Back daydreaming at the day job on Monday I reflected that the wait had been more than worthwhile as a prelude to one of the best and most original gigs I've been to in a very long time. What's more, you can learn a lot about an artist by getting there early enough to hear the sound-check, witness the professionalism of the crew and see the first and most dedicated fans starting to arrive. Ok, this is all just a cheap way to talk around the fact that, for once, we never did get the interview; but we still went home feeling more than pleased with ourselves for having discovered a surprising new favourite.

The audience was young, surprisingly so, but peppered with just enough grey hairs to tell we hadn't turned up at a Girls Aloud gig by mistake. As later dawned on me, the youngsters were far from wet behind the ears when it came to Regina's music. Her unusual talent evidently inspires a peculiarly attuned audience, singing along word-for-word with some of the bouncier tunes and joining in gleefully with certain of her more quirky lyrics ('so cheap and juicy!') to Regina's obvious delight. Equally, her quieter moments (such as her superb a-capella opening with 'Ain't No Cover') were treated with the kind of reverence rarely seen outside a chamber music concert : students tip-toeing around apologetically and whispering their drinks orders - perhaps a subconscious nod to Regina's routes as a classically trained pianist in Russia.

Her sweet and diminutive red-headed frame, peering out mischievously from behind a giant Steinway Concert Grand ('I asked for a smallish piano!' she quipped), Regina seems to genuinely enjoy a personal relationship with her fans; laughing and joking with them throughout, and secure enough to laugh at the occasional bum note (of which there were just a few). Her stage persona belies the genuine perfectionist evident before the crowd turned up; putting up hand-made posters asking that no one smoke 'out of respect for the artist' and refusing to have anyone other than crew in sight when performing a most thorough and professional sound check.

Lyrics range from the playful 'someone next door's fucking to one of my songs' (Bobbing for Apples), to the beautiful and profound 'things I have loved I'm allowed to keep, I'll never know if I go to sleep' (The Flowers). Whether from personal experience or pure imagination, Regina's songs have a strangely comforting habit of making you feel they are as pertinent to your life as they are to hers. On the night, the vocal delivery was, at times, sublime. Ok, a couple of the favourite hits, 'Better' and 'Fidelity' were disappointingly listless but they were more than compensated-for by the hilarious country parody 'You're a Whore', the joyfully well observed 'That Time' and the great sing-along finale, 'Hotel Song'.

Regina's style could, I think, best be described as enigmatic, since it's near impossible to give a name to her sound. Reviewers have tried, as reviewers do, to categorise her by comparing her to a number of her reported influences : Billy Holiday, Janis Joplin, Bjork and Kate Bush to name but a few. Certainly there are signs of those influences dotted about. The blues numbers are delivered with Billy's tortured feeling, the waling and irreverent Americana at least hints at Janis and there is more than a smattering of Bjork's occasional manic exuberance. In an effort to sound like a professional reviewer I guess I could join in the attempt to categorise Regina's style and her music. I could easily throw in a few more lazy comparisons for good luck: Susan Vega, Tom Waits (for lyrical style); Hell even Dolly Parton for pure sassiness!

In truth, Regina is pleasingly hard to pigeonhole; blending genres : country, folk, blues and pop - to the clear delight of an un-phased young audience. It was good to see: artists like Regina have the potential to open the minds of young music lovers and anything that has the potential to steer them clear of the path of X-factor pop drivel has to be applauded. If there is any justice in this world, Regina Spektor is going to be a big star and I'll always rue the day I failed to get an interview with one of the greats. Of course there rarely is justice, and she's unlikely to reach the heights of those manufactured pop sensations.

For more details, visit… Regina Sepktor' website

Photograph © Aline Giordano 2007