12th November | Colston Hall
Photo: Shervin Lainez
“Your hair was long when we first met” Regina Spektor wistfully sings in ‘Samson’, the closing song for her performance. It’s a line that carries a small sense of poignancy for me.
It has been 10 years since the release of her breakthrough album Born to Hope – a time when I was a long-haired sixteen-year-old enraptured by an album that was unlike anything I had previously shown interest in. Now promoting her seventh studio album Remember Us to Life, I entered the Colston Hall much shorter-haired and the first thing that I noticed was the diverse makeup of the crowd.
The sheer variety of people in the audience is a fitting tribute to the eclectic nature of Regina Spektor’s work. I was surprised to hear that there would be no support act but with a set consisting of twenty songs with another four in the encore, we certainly weren’t short-changed.
Spektor manages to nail the balance between new and old material in her set, with songs from her latest release (‘Grand Hotel’ & ‘Older and Taller’ stand out for me) entwined with favourites from her back catalogue – of which highlights included the depressingly relevant ‘Ballard of a Politician’, the energetic theme of Orange is the New Black ‘You’ve Got Time’ and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ that I didn’t know that I wanted until I heard it.
At the beginning of her set, I found myself thinking that Spektor is smaller than I imagined, this is largely because of the voice and persona that exudes from her recordings. At one point the backing musicians disappeared due to an unexpected lighting change and Spektor remarked that it was like “a magic show”. I cannot think of a more apt description of what we witnessed. Softly spoken, even somewhat bashful between songs, as soon as the music starts she is transformed.
I’ve always struggled to describe Regina Spektor to friends. She is a notoriously difficult musician to pigeon-hole, with influences from jazz, folk, hip-hop and classical music to name a few, prevalent in her work. It’s this ease in which she switches styles and moods that is truly remarkable.
Spektor switches from the wistful lover’s lament ‘Samson’ and belting out “Mary Anne’s a bitch” in the sweetly aggressive ‘Sailor Song’, to spitting lines to the hip-hop stylings of ‘Small Bill$’ apparently as effortlessly as changing a coat. Even where she strayed from her natural habitat of the piano in the latter, she completely owns the stage.
Throughout all the concerts I’ve attended, my personal highlights are the ones where I’ve not only heard my favourite songs, but have found a new appreciation of others. It is probably inferred that I have always loved ‘Samson’ and to finally see it performed live was an undoubted thing of beauty.
However, it was her performance of ‘Us’ that affected me the most and I’ve subsequently listened repeatedly, even as I write this. It encapsulated the range in which Spektor performs, invoking symptoms of nostalgia, pathos and companionship in a lonely world. It was the pinnacle of a concert that will linger long in the memory.
Check out the video for ‘Samson’ below.