When Russian-born-by-way-of-New-York songstress Regina Spektor came onto the popular music scene with her single “Fidelity’ in 2006, few knew that the then 27-year-old singer already had four albums under her belt.
With her quirky wordplay and adorably bizarre vocal inflections, it seemed Spektor was being groomed to be the next slightly off center female star.
But what her newly acquired fans mightn’t have realized, was that Begin To Hope – the release which got her famous – was, for the most part, unlike her previous records. Spektor’s first three LPs are almost entirely acoustic, very light on production, and sometimes downright bizarre, with the songstress using chairs as percussion and rapping about bowel movements.
As is often the case when an artist already has a substantial (and diverse) catalogue upon achieving fame, Spektor’s older work was not only unknown, but often poorly received by her audience at Melbourne’s The Plenary.
Opening the show was Spektor’s adorable and supremely talented husband Jack Dishel performing under the moniker of Only Son. The singer-songwriter is best known as the lead guitarist for cult band The Moldy Peaches, but it has to be said that his solo work is nothing to sneeze at.
Taking the stage alone, Dishel relies on loops to produce a slightly punk-rock sound while he handles guitar and vocals. The New Yorker’s voice is pure, and along with his sampling prowess, is perfectly showcased on ‘Long Live The Future’.
For the majority of Only Son’s set, the mostly female audience are distracted and not fully engaged (which is much more of a reflection on the crowd than the performance); but this all changes with ‘Stamp Your Name On It’, noisier and fuller than the rest of his set, Dishel pays homage to his punk rock roots and seems far more at home.
By the time he exits the stage, The Plenary is half full, and the lime green chairs of the venue make it painfully obvious just how many people didn’t make it for the opening act.
As Ms. Spektor graces the stage, she is silent and, without greeting the audience, launches into a heart-stopping a capella rendition of ‘Ain’t No Cover’. Her voice is stunning and she uses nothing but her own finger taps of the microphone as a beat to accompany her delicately jazzy vocals, as the venue falls silent and all phones are (finally) put away.
Starting with a slew of hits, including ‘The Calculation’ and ‘On The Radio’, the singer settles in behind her piano and doesn’t bother with much stage banter (a trend that continues all night, including when a group of girls gift Spektor portraits they’ve painted).
After appeasing her young audience with a few of her better-known tracks, Spektor digs deep into her catalogue and beyond. Cuts from her earlier, self-released records 11:11 and Songs don’t go down quite as well with the crowd. Maybe it’s because they can’t sing along or maybe its that in a 25-song set, 10 piano ballads in a row can get tiresome.
Never the less, some older tracks did manage to seduce, with most charmed by Spektor’s stunning voice pleading to “help a brother out” during ‘Ode To Divorce’, and with so few discernable differences between original recordings and Spektor’s live renditions, the crowd is left floored over and over.
Her tactics to sandwich the older, lesser known numbers between her hits seems to work, as during the obligatory encore, she plays all her biggest hits including ‘Us’, ‘Fidelity’, and ‘Hotel Song’.
If there was ever any doubt that Spektor seems to resent her fans only being aware of her last three albums, then what happened during her rendition of her most popular song to date, ‘Samson’, verified it.
Spektor rushed through the ballad, and as she got to the first chorus, she halts and yells “What the hell is that?!” After the confused audience half cackles, she explains “it sounds like there’s a velcro ghost on stage. Sorry, but that was scary. I’m gunna figure out how to continue…”
After attempting a re-launch, Spektor interrupts the track twice more, then quickly bids goodbyes and exits the stage.
The audience was left confused and slightly exhausted after a densely packed, piano-heavy two hour show.
Despite Spektor’s confusing attitude towards her own catalogue’s reception, the show was made enjoyable thanks to her powerful yet fragile voice. If anything is for sure it’s that the New Yorker has the chops, but maybe not the patience, to seduce her audience.
Check out our gallery of Regina Spektor’s show at The Plenary in Melbourne here.