Live Music + Gig Reviews

Regina Spektor @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

4 February 2006


A relatively unknown quantity maybe, but Regina Spektor nonetheless receives something akin to a hero’s welcome at an all-seated but not-quite-full Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

With a UK story-so-far compilation to plug (which Miss Spektor dismissively forgets the name of), the time is ripe for this Moscow-born New Yorker to plant her superpower-united flag and annex this outpost of old Europe. And if the tumultuous response (by an audience whose mean age cannot be much more than 22) is anything to go by, its odds-on she’ll get her way.

With a stage-sized Steinway and the odd flirtation with a Yamaha electric keyboard and sky-blue-shiny electric guitar, Spektor proceeds to delight her faithful with her wandering, self-referential songs of literary and historical allusions.

Suitably clad in goth-glamour black and shoulder-length locks arranged in indie-harmony, the besotted young fan who shouted ‘I love You’ after the brave acapella intro of Eight Miles High was no doubt in plentiful company when mooning over the pout-full Spektor in all her cutesy punkish posy.

When Spektor tells of someone ‘fucking to one of her songs’ (Bobbing For Apples) the coupled audience cheer appreciation with the warm acknowledgement of a shared experience. Heart-warming perhaps, but despite the non-linear wayward structures and puzzling references, Spektor’s songs possess a similar gloop of narcissism that fed the dread muse of (and I use the term advisedly) Alanis Morissette.

A damning indictment, true, but while La Spektor avoids her forebear’s toys-out-the-pram sententiousness, there’s relatively little for anyone outside of the Ready Brek glow of the Spektor cult to appreciate. Though nudging a sweetly-turned curl or two into the realms of magic realism, compositions like Pound Of Flesh and Fidelity struggle to charm.

Almost ingratiatingly grateful to her public, Spektor’s insistent switching from Betty Boop faux-bashfulness to Lydia Lunch-lite archness has a limited shelf-life when ingested in its entirety at this headline setting. Though raised from an early age in the Bronx with a reportedly penurious upbringing, Spektor’s music has the curious whiff of affluence, that despite the over-egged and self-conscious kookiness appears part OC / part Buffy, but without the kick-over traces of irony.

With her classical training, winks and nods to cabaret (well, Will Young was in the house), an obvious comfort with challenging scales and tricky changes, and a burgeoning talent for image-manipulation, it’s a disappointment to find Regina Spektor a disappointment. The habit of repeating and re-emphasising key lines has the effect of condescension, of underestimating an audience’s ability to get the message.

New single Us, on record one of Regina’s more easily-ingested efforts, loses the sweetening strings on stage, and its tale of ‘they made a statue out of us’ underlines the alienating effect of unblinking self-absorption that inhabits much of the material. “Remember that time you OD’ed..” runs one song, but Spektor floats loftily above the performance, the dispassionate narration provoking neither empathy or concern for the protoganist.

Comparisons to the similarly hard-to-love Tori Amos will continue to abound, but the confident Spektor has more than a smidgen of the canny operator about her to be satisfied in reflected glory. Expect the cult to grow, but don’t be disappointed if your invitation fails to arrive.


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