Review: Preeminent Songbird Regina Spektor Shines for an Adoring Sold-Out Radio City Crowd
By Dan Ouellette, ZEALnyc Senior Editor, March 14, 2017
Talk about a pre-Purim bliss. Pop songbird Regina Spektor received a standing ovation from her adoring fans just for walking onstage at the onset of her nearly two-hour show at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday, March 11. Just like the Jewish holiday to be celebrated the next day, the proceedings were joyous, fun and playful and in stretches poignant in light of the dark canyons we’re living in. The pianist/songwriter sang impeccably, with an element of warm whimsy, a haunting depth and a fertile imagination, both as a compelling storyteller and a savvy poetic observer of the social order and her personal romance. She giggled throughout the show, pleased at the “We love you” shout-outs throughout the evening (even from young kids who adored her music as much as their parents). As popular as she is (she sold out the multi-tiered Radio City and could have done so in a second night if she chose), there’s not a diva’s bone in her slight body. She welcomed and was excited. She asked for nothing, but she gave so much—witness the standing ovation at the end of the show.
The Soviet Union Moscow-born songstress who moved with her family in 1989 to New York when she was nine, Spektor returned to Radio City for the first time since 2009 when she was in the midst of touring her immensely successful albums Begin to Hope, released in 2006, and that year’s Far recording. In what she called her hometown show, Spektor brought onto the stage a string quartet (attesting to her classical music upbringing), a drummer and an electric keyboardist. She opened with a bouncy ride through one of Begin to Hope’s hits, the catchy “On the Radio,” with her signature quirky vocal delivery—glottal stops and plainspoken lines—and a sign off with her clapping that got the whole house to do the same. She then launched into two tunes from her new album, Remember Us to Life, out since last fall allowing her fans to have plenty of time to respond to the first chords of the songs she played on her Steinway. The first was the mysterious and yet playful “Grand Hotel” with its perilous tunnel beneath that “leads down to hell” (all reminiscent of the haunted hotel in the film The Shining) followed by the lyrical “Older and Taller,” a tale of looking back at a troubled soul who returns to home with the singer stressing the chorus admonition to “Enjoy your youth/Sounds like a threat.”
Spektor performed most of the songs of the 11-song recording, with highlights including the turbulent-turned-hoedown “Tornadoland;” the tale about growing up through all the pain, “Bleeding Heart, with Spektor shouting in rhythmic staccato; the parable of a spiritually bereft social order, “The Trapper and the Furrier,” opened as a spoken-word piece; the dance-grooved “Small Bill$” with vocal whooping; and the song about mind-darkening alienation, “Obsolete,” that opened with the lines: “This is how I feel right now/Obsolete manuscript/No one reads and no one needs/Pages lost, incomplete/No one knows what it means.”
She also delivered fan-favorite tunes from her older albums, including the dramatically delicious “Blue Lips” from her Far album. She also offered more top-tier songs from Begin to Hope like “Better,” “Après Moi” and “Fidelity”, the big hit that put her on the map, and the magnificent “Samson,” which she sang to close the four-song encore set. She also got serious by dedicating a song to resistance in the midst “a lot of people trying to steer history away.” She hit to marrow with “The Ballad of a Politician,” from her 2012 recording What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, rendered on solo piano with Spektor singing what has turned out to be prophetic:
You love so deep, so tender
Your people and your land
You love ’em ’til they can’t recall
Who they are again
Shake your ass out in that street
You’re gonna make us scream someday
You’re gonna make us weep
During the same solo stretch, Spektor sang the moving Leonard Cohen gem from 1974, “Chelsea Hotel #2”—about the brief affair he had with Janis Joplin in the famous hometown Bohemian hostelry—that she had seen him sing at Radio City on one of his final tours. Of course, the show had to feature a rocking version of arguably her most famous tune, “You’ve Got Time,” the theme song for the HBO series Orange Is the New Black that opens each episode.
In her 16-year indie pop career, the 37-year-old has gone through a lot of changes. Witness her image on the cover of her first major label release, 2004’s Soviet Kitsch where she’s donning a Greek sailor hat, guzzling from a bottle of what appears to be an alcoholic beverage and sporting a party girl smile. Compare that to her latest release where she’s dressed in a regal jacket with a fur collar. She’s settled down, it seems, and matured. She’s married, has a young child and while she’s not fantastically abounding as it once seemed, today she’s so in tune with the times and delivering her stories in compelling form. In her modest and singular way, she has become one of smart pop’s most preeminent stars. She showed that in wonderful abundance at Radio City.
Cover: Regina Spektor; photo: Shervin Lainez