Enchantment in the Forest
By Allegra Heckman
Alternative singer-songwriter-pianist Regina Spektor gave a truly inspired performance to a sold-out audience at L.A.’s Greek Theatre Tuesday night.. Spektor has emerged as one of her generation’s most original and talented artists.
With no introduction but our cheers, Regina took the stage and began with her bluesy a cappella “Ain’t No Cover.” The soulfulness of her voice and some cool finger-tapping rhythms on the microphone made for a nice appetizer. Backed by drums, cello, and keyboard, she settled in at a black Steinway grand piano center stage, and proceeded to enrapture. With graceful proficiency at the piano, and her captivating voice, Regina performed “The Calculation,” “On the Radio,” and “Ode to Divorce.”
From sultry lows, a silky smooth mid range, and a beautiful airy high head voice, Regina has great range. Yet with all her smooth legitimacy, she’s unafraid to explore more playful and unusual vocal expressions. She beat boxes. She’s rhythmic. She moans and purrs. She sings in dialects and in other languages. And with every twist and turn, she brought the audience at the Greek deeper and deeper under her magical musical spell.
Part of Regina’s charm is the contrast between her shy and humble persona when speaking, and her commanding presence in her musical delivery. After coyly adlibbing a comment about squashing a bug that “made a bad decision”, Regina continued with the very literary “Blue Lips”:
He stumbled into faith and thought
God, this is all there is?
The pictures in his mind arose
And began to breathe
And all the gods and all the worlds
Began colliding on a backdrop of blue
Ranging from earthy to cosmic, intelligent to comical, mature to childlike, Regina’s lyrics never fail to evoke strong emotion. Painting us pictures with her voice, she immersed us in the haunting imagery of her latest single “All the Rowboats”
All the rowboats
In the paintings
They keep trying to row away
And the captains’ worried faces
Stay contorted and staring at the waves
“Rowboats” features a dramatic ending with big synthetic drum hits, played by rock-solid and tasteful drummer Mathius Kunzli. Chatting after the show, Kunzli told me about the challenge of grooving with Regina’s flexible timing. Spektor’s most recent record producer is Mike Elizondo, best known as a co-writer on Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” and bassist for Dr. Dre. An L.A. resident, Elizondo sat in for several songs on both electric and upright bass. The band was rounded out by Yoed Mir on cello, and the very understated Brad Whitely on backing keyboards.
Regina was born in Russia to a musical family, who immigrated to New York City in 1989, when Regina was 9 years old. A classically trained pianist, she brings an eclectic fusion of classical, Russian folk, Jewish, blues and rock influences to her pop music.
Opening the show was Only Son, fronted by singer-songwriter-guitarist Jack Dishel. Dishel has a lot in common with Spektor, having also immigrated from Russia to New York as a child, and sharing her knack for unusual-yet-memorable hooks. His voice crystal clear and pitch perfect, Dishel delivered with songs like “It’s a boy” (a clever, satirical take on life’s challenges”) and “Put Your Stamp On It” (a rousing one-note closer).
Spektor and Dishel share more than just a love for music, they love each other. They’ve been in a relationship for years, and are now married. In one of the evening’s most touching moments, Regina left the piano and invited her acoustic guitar strumming hubby to join her for a co-written duet, “Call Them Brothers”. The song was moving, and the couple’s real-life chemistry filled the magical summer night air.
What is it about Regina? “She’s so passionate,” “genuine,” “adorkable,” “no one else like her,” “quirky,” “real,” “it’s like she speaks for me.” These and other enthusiastic replies came from Regina’s fans in the VIP area after the show, which at the Greek concert included the likes of Tom Petty and Rosanna Arquette.
A female singer at the piano can’t help but remind us of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, or (going further back) Carole King. But Regina Spektor is none of those. In a world where it’s easy to feel it’s all been done before, she has managed to create her own unique brand. 5800 adoring fans came to see her at the Greek, thundering their applause until she came out for an encore. She saved some of her most loved songs for last – “Us,” “Fidelity” and “Hotel Song,” which she did with her band. Finally, her solo rendition of “Samson” was a beautiful ending to a most wonderful evening.