It’s hard to think of any major artist today that sounds like Regina Spektor in the way she sings. Her songwriting and arrangement are similarly unique, and that’s probably a result of her doing her own songwriting, another rarity in the field. For her to have the courage to offer a unique combination of her singing, writing and arranging styles is commendable enough – and to be able to maintain mass appeal over decades is even more so.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown L.A. is almost an instrument in itself, most notable for hosting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The shape of the hall was precisely designed for musicians on acoustic instruments, and one can literally hear a pin drop. It was especially impressive that despite seating over 2,500, the venue was routinely hushed with almost complete silence, such that people walking in and out were quite conspicuous.
On songs like, “Poor Little Rich Boy,” Regina comes off as a musician through and through (it’s unfortunate that this can’t be said for all popular musicians.) She performs this song with a right hand playing percussively against a wooden chair while her left hand holds down piano chords. Unlike on her early records, she has a complex rhythm peppered through the song, much more than anything on the radio.
The night might as well have been described as the “Regina Spektor Variety Show,” as her friend Caleb joined as the percussion section with his tap dancing and later dedicated his skills to the grand piano. Meanwhile, Spektor sang into her microphone vocalizing poignant lyrics that were believable in their delivery. The sparse arrangement throughout the night that seemed to allow the listener to focus on the small nuances of vocal delivery and the lyrics of the song seemed to do that particularly here.
In reviewing a wide array of shows by top artists, what ends up sticking in memory are unique moments. For a group like Pussy Riot and even Danny Elfman, it was the “shock” of appearance, in the former’s balaclavas and the latter’s body tattoos. But in Spektor’s case, it is a different type of “shocking” moment that sticks out, and that is watching her accompany herself by playing percussion onto a wooden chair with her right hand, while her left holds down the bass end of her keyboard. It’s the musical concern, if you can call it that, of whether hitting the seat of a wooden chair will have the fullness of sound that a traditional drum kit will – and of course, it didn’t.
Unfortunately, as is the case for many pop artists who rely in part on the beauty of their voices in studio recordings, there is a noticeable gap between the studio and live vocal performance despite Spektor’s mastery. It’s worth noting that in comparison, the tone of the keyboard and grand piano don’t seem strikingly different live compared to the recording. The discrepancy between the live-studio vocal gap and the live-studio piano gap is evidence of the extent that vocal production plays its role in her recordings. And yet this fact does not take away from the fact that she is, as proven by her live ability, a very experienced and expressive singer.
Spektor is a very resilient performer in the sense that her abilities and material translate live. It’s helpful that even in her recordings, though instrumentals are often heavily layered, they play very minimal parts. As a result, her self-accompaniment fills enough space on its own. If forced to nitpick, songs of hers that have a less complex rhythm, which then leave attention on melody, lyrics and vocals, are ones that have less resiliency. Unlike Bob Dylan, who even when singing without anything near his voice when he wrote many of his classics, can continue to win the crowd over because the song itself had always done the heavy lifting. Some of Spektor’s more rhythmically complex songs, as well as her bigger hits, are able to do this.
The two finals songs earned the most applause. First was Spektor’s hit, “Fidelity”, from 2006. Immediately, the song stood out from the rest of her entire catalogue, as one with a discernible hit quality that cut through, with a tighter, particularly memorable hook even throughout the verse. The song was followed by a well-deserved standing ovation. After exiting stage left, she returned for an encore; her performance of “Samson” from 2002 ended the night.
Spektor fit the Walt Disney Concert Hall venue like a glove, with her airy, light vocals and sparse instrumentation perfectly emphasized by the acoustics of the hall. The “classical” spirit that runs through much of her songwriting and performance, which seemed so precise and close to perfect, once again fit a venue that is known for hosting the L.A. Philharmonic.