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At the turn of the century, a small musical revolution occurred. The resurgence of anti-folk came down to a handful of New York musicians, people went out and bought some Moldy Peaches records and the whole thing slowly subsided, but there is still one darling of the movement whose star still shines, a small-time pianist turned major-label musician. Despite us catching her at “the most jetlagness ever”, tonight Regina Spektor will win hearts and minds with a stunning solo show.
The crowd is warmed-up nicely by solo guitarist Only Son, otherwise known as Jack Dishel, previously the lead guitarist in the Moldy Peaches, current member of Adam Green's band and former frontman of anti-folk also-rans Stipplicon. Whilst performing to a backing track occasionally robs the set of the intimacy it would have otherwise had, Dishel’s Grandaddy-meets-Beck indie-pop leanings generate a good audience response. Between songs he is communicative, giving a running commentary and eventually showing off his truly horrendous (though thankfully light-hearted) impersonation of a London accent. You get the feeling though, that he knows whatever he does will not stop him being blown offstage by the headline act tonight.
When Regina Spektor appears, she does so clutching a cup of coffee and nodding politely at the ovation. She may be weary, but from the second she opens her mouth to sing the jazz a-capella of ‘Eight Miles High’, the audience hang off her every word as we are taken on a journey to Reginapolis. Her New York accent bears a strong Russian twist, her voice child-like, cascading between the notes of her oft-touching, yet rarely-mourning tales, uplifting beautiful yet tinged with sadness at the same time. Life is simplified, arranged into rhyme and recited back to us in songs both old and new, even ones which don’t even figure on the forthcoming album.
This new material is rich in Spektor’s kooky sense of humour, and lines like “someone next door is fucking to one of my songs” are delivered with a cute grin and coy glances. Stripped bare of the accompaniment they are afforded on record, the songs take on a much more personal feel, performed mostly on the grand piano which adorns the stage. Up close, ‘Samson’ - a swooning, lonely tale of better days in love – becomes heart-wrenchingly tender, as Spektor near-weeps the line, “You are my sweetest downfall, I loved you first” in her soft, falsetto cry. Come the song’s end, the applause erupts for a good minute as she patiently waits for it to subside, eventually surrendering and joining in the applause when it shows no signs of stopping, looking like a guest, unsure of what's happening but eager to agree, regardless.
Like fellow pianist Ben Folds, she generates her own percussion, whether it’s hitting a chair with a drumstick, clicking her tongue or tapping her heels, filling out the sounds where the other instruments should be and contributing her own backing vocals with quiet ‘aah’s whilst shooting glances at the audience, caught somewhere between revelling in her twee nature and recoiling in embarrassment. Polite and personable, she thanks us quietly at the end of each song, and when she hits the one errant note of the entire night she turns to the audience with an innocent ‘oops’ and titters quietly before finishing.
As the eagle-eyed security occasionally swoop on any audience members trying to acquire a visual record of the songstress, you have to wonder if a picture is actually needed. At 12.55am, as I am sat on a train outside Maidenhead, two hours after filing out of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, it occurs to me that I can remember almost every song in the 60-minute-plus set, despite not owning a single one of them. Her music speaking louder than a photograph ever could, just imagine what Regina Spektor could do with a full night’s sleep.
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