“I’m going to read you some poetry, if that’s ok with you,” said Nicole Atkins at the beginning of her support slot. It’s some testament to Regina Spektor’s audience that even this suggestion was met with whooping and applause, before Atkins relented with a chuckle of “Nah, I’m just fucking with you…”.
Looking uncannily like Dobby from Channel 4′s Peep Show, Atkins instead ran through acoustic versions of her songs, including a stunning rendition of Maybe Tonight, the standout track from Neptune City. Displaying a nicely self-deprecating sense of humour (“I’m going to play the piano now… just to make Regina look even more awesome than she already is.”) and finishing with a cover of Roy Orbison‘s Crying, Atkins was the perfect warm-up act.
The welcome that was accorded to Spektor as she gingerly stepped onto stage was quite overwhelming – the cheers seemed to shake the roof of Leeds Academy. Taking her seat behind the grand piano, she belted out a note-perfect Better before quickly segueing into One More Time With Feeling. Yet, it was clear even this early on that all was not well in Regina’s world.
It wasn’t just the fact that she looked a bit uncomfortable – barely glancing at the audience, and singing with her eyes tight shut. There was also no interaction, just a brief nod and uneasy smile now and again, despite the cries of “Talk to us, Regina!”. It was to become clear at the end of the show exactly what was wrong, but at the time it was all a bit puzzling.
For those who just wanted to enjoy the songs though, it was a treat of an evening. With an excellent set-list covering most of her recent material, every song was sung along to with gusto. Spektor spent most of the time perched behind her piano, specialising in those weird little tics that make her vocals so compelling. She even jumped up for Dance Anthem Of The ’80s, and strapped on a guitar for That Time.
Machine was a particularly dramatic highlight, with some entertaining interplay between Spektor and her drummer, while Apres Moi produced goose-bumps down the spine of everyone listening. Perhaps the best moment though was the fan favourite Bobbing For Apples, producing laughter from the audience at the line “someone next door is fucking to one of my songs”.
Finishing with the fantastic triple whammy of Samson, Us and Fidelity, Spektor eventually took to the microphone to explain that her bandmate, cellist Daniel Cho had tragically died in the middle of the tour, and asked us to keep him and his wife and child in our thoughts that evening. It immediately made sense of the slightly strange atmosphere that had pervaded the gig and it was impossible not to feel enormous admiration for Spektor in carrying on with the tour in the shadow of such tragedy.
A teary Regina took her bow and left the stage – it made for an understandably abrupt ending for an appropriately beautiful tribute to her much missed friend.