The beauty of Regina Spektor, is that you never know what to expekt. The quirky Russian-American redhead is known as much for her crazy musical experimentalism as she is for her heartfelt, melancholic piano ballads. But tonight at the Manchester Apollo, rather unexpectedly, Spektor performs a set which is far more classically accessible than ambitiously avant-garde.
Bravely opening with a jazz-infused acapella number, tapping the microphone in accompaniment, Regina is received with raucous applause by the mostly female audience. After a cry from one, “YOU’RE SOOO CUTE REGINA!” she is joined onstage by a drummer, cellist and keyboardist, and seats herself at the grand piano to play a selection of songs derived from her new album “What We Saw from the Cheap Seats.”
It’s not a setlist that is about to get the crowd moving their feet, but they are clearly captivated by Regina’s unique voice and ability to craft echoes of Rachmaninoff’s piano and extracts of Pasternak’s poetry into her music, and even singing whole songs in Russian (The Prayer of Francois Villan). This is no happy accident – Regina is very attached to Russian language and culture, having been born into a musical Russian family in Moscow, and only emigrating to the USA at age 9. New single “All the Rowboats” goes down an absolute storm with the crowd, as do the vocal gymnastics of “Oh, Marcello,” where Spektor puts on a comedic Italian accent. Her husband, Moldy Peaches guitarist Jack Dishel, joins her onstage for a duet of “Call them Brothers” (he performed an opening slot earlier). But it’s the Vampire Weekend-esque “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” that really leaves a lasting impression, with the bouncy keys and summery strings casting a smile over every face in the hall.
Whilst Regina appears to be putting on a spectacular show, it becomes clear that her voice is suffering, and tries soothing her throat with some water, whilst apologising profusely to the audience – “I’m so, so sorry!” she croaks. After five minutes she performs one of the hits from “Begin to Hope,” – “Better,” and for the crowd’s sake, we hope it’s a sign that she is well enough to continue. But things take a turn for the worst, and Regina leaves the stage, after whispering, “Can you talk amongst yourselves for 5? I know you’re going to be tweeting all about this tomorrow.”
Twenty minutes later and she returns to the stage to finish the set, running straight into the encore as the fans have “waited enough.” To a delighted crowd she performs pizzicato favourite “Fidelity” and ends with the stunning, Biblical ballad, “Samson.” The crowd, clearly wanting to sing along but wanting to hear her delicate vocals, sings as quietly as possible. The result is a magical muttering which reverberates off the Apollo walls so eerily that the hairs on the back of my neck stick up.
If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed not to hear her most famous (and my favourite) track, “Us.” But despite the unanticipated interlude, this was a beautiful concert, which did not fail to send shivers down the spines of all who saw it.