I am never quite sure where I stand with Regina Spektor, whether she’s too twee and girly and contrived or whether she’s charming and talented and captivating. I wavered with this at her show at the Opera House.
It started off very well – the support act, Jupiter One (who turned out to be the members of Regina’s band) were impressive. Also from Brooklyn, they struck me immediately as classically trained – not only because of the violin and the cello, but also the unashamed love of pop melodies mixed within a complex tweaking of song structures and a keen ear for texture and atmosphere. Jupiter One started out with just the front man, K Ishibashi, a violin and a loop pedal, Andrew Bird-style. Eventually a cellist was revealed, and then a drummer, and Jupiter One’s unusual, kind of unfinished-sounding but beautiful songs were able to build up to cinematic, orchestral heights, with touches of The Dodos and Patrick Watson.
But on to Regina. Last time she came out to Sydney she had broken her leg or something and limped around the stage of the Enmore diminutively like an injured sparrow. I didn’t realise she was always kind of shy and humble and sweet. Wearing a simple dress and with her trademark hair like a red mane matched to red lips, Regina couldn’t stop grinning at the Opera House concert hall that was pretty much packed and totally surrounding her on all sides. She noted that she was told to stop thanking audiences after she “clocked about 52 thank yous at a London show.”
The set that she played was long and diverse, and with five albums under her belt since 2001, she had a lot of material to choose from. The loving crowd was also treated some new material, including a knee-slapping, fast drivin’, drums and fiddlin’ country song that she ended her encore with.
Having a giant disco ball on stage hidden just behind the enormous grand piano was probably the smartest move on behalf of lighting, who were able to shine some strong white stage lights on to it and cover the concert hall in stars. Sadly, some of the other lighting bordered on extremely kitsch, with big swirly paisley shapes and tacky rainbow colours sometimes going pretty over the top. I felt similarly about the music, which mostly felt wonderful, with Regina’s incredible voice projecting beautifully and an absolutely water-tight band, but sometimes I suppose it can be less charming and idiosyncratic the second time around, and more like the brand of indie-girl-cutesy that I hate in things like The Gilmore Girls. That said, there were moments where Kimya Dawson was brought to mind, which is a brand of cute I can definitely get behind – unselfconscious cute.
It’s definitely possible that the band took far too long – almost obnoxiously so – to appear for their encore, but it was well worth it to hear ‘Samson’, ‘Us’ and ‘Fidelity’ all saved up ‘til dessert.
It’s heartwarming to see a talented musician like Regina Spektor not giving in to commercial pressures and championing her own eccentric, creative, adorable, intelligent brand of pop writing. This show was equal parts epic, lovely and entertaining, all underscored by strong musicianship and sincerity of writing.