Monday, May 16, 2005


At 12:40 AM, Regina Spektor, the Russian-born, doe-eyed pianist and songwriter, returned to the Bowery Ballroom stage for her encore to a half-empty audience. It seemed that some of her fans—albeit, the not-so-devoted ones—weren’t able to muster enough strength to stand for more than two-and-a-half hours. After all, she had been performing since 10:00. “Why didn’t you tell me that I was playing that long?” Spektor asked incredulously, as she flipped her ropey red curls from side-to-side like a nervous schoolgirl caught doing something inappropriate. “I can’t believe you let me go on for that long!” Spektor’s publicist would later inform me that Regina genuinely has no sense of time and that playing for nearly three hours seemed like five minutes to her. Nonetheless, three hundred people still remained in the darkened New York venue waiting for more, and Spektor, the consummate performer, was more than happy to oblige.


The day I meet Regina Spektor, she is wearing a tutu over her jeans for no apparent reason other than she likes to wear them (in fact, when I ask her for the logic behind the accessory, she plainly states, “’cause I like ‘em.”). Upon introduction, Regina is disarmingly eccentric, recounting the previous night when she had been introduced to the music of Iron Maiden. “It was sooo scary,” she recounts with a slight, but noticeable Russian inflection, “but also so exciting. Afterwards, I was afraid to walk home by myself.” Spektor alternates between using “wow” and “amazing” in every other sentence, as if the minutiae of daily life was actually quite miraculous. Picking at her apple cinnamon nut muffin and sipping coffee with soymilk (“My Chinese-medicine doctor told me that dairy gives me strep throat”), Regina is an incredibly unassuming presence, weary of any artistic praise. Her humility is surprising considering the other artists she’s already been compared to: Billie Holliday, Björk, Kate Bush. Sarah Mclachlan, Ella Fitzgerald, Tori Amos, and, in lyrical content only, Tom Waits.
Having grown up in Moscow, Russia, the land of bootlegged cassettes, Spektor’s introduction to rock consisted of, bafflingly, Queen, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. It was not until recently that she was exposed to the music to which people attribute her influences. “People would say, oh, you sound like Joni Mitchell. And I would say, uhh, who’s Joni Mitchell?” Her third album, and first for a major label, Soviet Kitsch is a stirring collection of short-act plays set to dramatic piano accompaniment, incorporating classical structures, ragtime nuances and klezmer essences. In songs like “Carbon Monoxide” and “Chemo Limo,” the Russian import inhabits her own lyrics like they were studio apartments, living in them until they become autobiographical confessions. “I am a songwriter,” Spektor says. “There is the word ‘writer’ in that term. People forget that.
There is no real ‘I’ in my music,” Spektor continues. “An actor can take up any role and win an award for it. While a musician can sing from the perspective of a wife beater and suddenly that musician is inciting violence.” Spektor takes another bite of her muffin, looks up to me, and says, “Wow, this muffin is really amazing.”


With her cello and drum accompaniment no longer on the stage, Regina Spektor got up from her piano and stood alone with just a microphone in hand, gripping it with the same caution of handling valuable china. For her last song, she cooed an a cappella version of “Reginasaurous,” the closest song in her catalogue to an autobiographical statement.
“If I was a philosophy, I’d be Reginasentialism/And if people spoke using quotes of me, they’d say a Reginaism/If I was a religion, then my church would surely have a schism/There’d be Regewish and Registian and Regislam and Reguddist and Reginatheist/ But they’d still be friends.”
When she left the stage, we were all converted. At least, those of us who were still hanging around.


Post a Comment

<< Home