Blame Elton John. It’s what the rest of us do.
Thanks to him, the grand piano, the original rock’n’roll instrument, is now a bastion of politeness, vicariously recast into a new domain of easy-listening; cocktail lounges; background muzak. It may just be a visual thing, but wheel on a Steinway and watch as it sucks the joy right out of a gig.
Well, something sucked it out of this one anyway, and it may as well have been the inanimate object sitting centre stage. From the notices asking us to not smoke, to the ridiculously early curfew, to the general air of middle-class semi-approval, it was a night of good manners at the Astoria. Occasionally it flickered into something that might aggravate your parents, anyone who can produce something as punky as Your Honor while sat in a dress tinkling the ivories has to be a bit above the norm, but for the most part, you may have well have been at a Norah Jones recital.
If it’s mainstream acceptability she’s after, she may well be on the right track. The songs from the new album reek of soporific adult-contemporary. Field Below laboured, Samson begged for a blond haired jock to take enough time out of football training to sweep it up in his arms and drive it to the prom, and even Fidelity – on record a perfect example of why kooky doesn’t necessary equal crap – was here recast as a perfect example of the hurt that can ensue when blandness attacks.
Additionally, the little-girl-lost act we see on stage, all unsure giggles and bashful eye flutters feels entirely disingenuous. The street-smart weirdo you expect, with vocal ticks, skewed imagination and predisposition to dropping into alternative languages whilst singing, replaced with a undeniably polished, an undeniably nice, and undeniably forgettable performer.
But somehow, despite all that, there still remains the crumb of hope that if anyone out there could be an interesting piano-playing female singer-songwriter, it could be Spektor. The off-kilter gait of the melody which carries Us towards an Eastern horizon; the aforementioned Your Honor; the gleeful way she chants “Marianne’s a bitch…” on the show-tune-with-an-asbo Sailor Song, they all offer a glimpse of a much better performer than the one we see tonight.
A performer who doesn’t make you think, “Hmmm, that was nice. Let’s buy some soft furnishings and load up the Volvo”. If we can’t find her we’re in severe danger of losing someone who could be great to the warm embrace of mediocrity.