Regina Spektor gives awkwardly charming set at the State Theatre

Categories: Concert Review
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Photos by Steve Cohen
Review by Carl Atiya Swanson


There are two things that one can unequivocally say about Regina Spektor, and both were on full display as she kicked off her national tour at the State Theatre Friday night. The first is that she has the most vibrant and elastic voice of any singer working in pop music today, lithely moving up and down the scales with incredible technical precision. After her concert at Myth Nightclub in 2007 (the venue that fortuitously closed to give Spektor a far more grand stage to launch her tour--she is much more suited to gold gilt than drafty I-beams) a friend of mine spent the better part of the evening arguing that we had just been duped by a brilliant lip-sycher, because no-one could be that spot-on all the time. Given that there were a several points during the show Friday night where Spektor stuttered and corrected herself, giggling, mid-song, I can attest that she is actually singing and that it is wonderful. 

The second thing is that Spektor is endearing in concert. Her giggles, habit of drinking out of a water bottle with both hands on the bottle and arms akimbo, like a little child for whom the bottle is too big, and self-deprecating asides--she berated herself several times for things going wrong, saying things like, "This is just like my life except with lights!" when things were actually going very well--were utterly charming. Those mannerisms keep Spektor fixed in some liminal state between child piano prodigy and sharp-eyed critic of adult life, a line she has walked with mixed success on her records.

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Steve Cohen
Touring in support of Far, her third studio album that was released this summer, Spektor opened the set with a six song block of new material. Supported by McKenzie Smith on drums, K. Ishibashi on violin and Dan Cho on cello (or, as Spektor put it, "On cell-OH!"), Spektor moved proficiently through the songs, recreating the album versions in a polished and professional manner and keeping nervousness for between tunes. Her undeniable vocal strength shone through on "Two Birds" and was well supported by the Beatles-esque string arrangements, but even though the songs were all precise, with their vocal quirks firmly in place, the new material felt overwrought and technical, especially the trite Joan Osborne re-tread "Laughing With."

The rest of the band left the stage after the sixth song and let Spektor find her own stride, totally losing herself in "Ode To Divorce." After the labor of the previous part of the set, it was refreshing to hear the raw pastiche of love, need, and absurdity shining through. For the rest of the regular set, Spektor held down the stage solo, moving over to a Yamaha keyboard for the bouncy, sly "Dance Anthem Of The '80s" and over to a seafoam green Epiphone guitar for "Bobbing for Apples," a song that contains the winkingly self-aware chorus "Someone next door's fucking to one of my songs." Moving back to the Steinway grand piano for "Apres Moi," Spektor's complete abandon with the song, crouching over the keys and arching her back was one of the most engrossing performances of the concert.

The rest of the set kept the energy up and featured some more familiar tricks, bringing out a chair to use as a drum for "Poor Little Rich Boy," as she has done at previous concerts and the see-sawing tempos of "Lacrimosa." The encore was superb, as she seemed much more comfortable with the performance as it neared an end and the band offered impeccable support. They closed out the with the upbeat, country-dance goofiness of "Love, You're A Whore" that had the crowd laughing and whooping all the way to a standing ovation. --Carl Atiya Swanson

Regina Spektor Setlist State Theatre 9/11/2009

The Calculation
One More Time With Feeling
Eet
Machine
Two Birds
Laughing With
Ode To Divorce
Blue Lips
On The Radio
Dance Anthem Of The 80s
Bobbing For Apples
That Time
Apres Moi
Poor Little Rich Boy
Lacrimosa
Man Of A Thousand Faces

Encore
Samson
Us
Hotel Song
Fidelity
Love, You're A Whore

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