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Regina Spektor, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Regina Spektor, Hammersmith Apollo

Regina Spektor, Hammersmith Apollo

New York kook performs latest album with a string quartet

After years of cultish acclaim and enthusiastic reviews, the American singer-songwriter and star of New York's “anti-folk” scene Regina Spektor has now reached a career tipping point where mainstream acceptance beckons - and her detractors begin to sharpen their knives. She is, depending on your taste, either an idiosyncratic, piano-charming genius, or a contrived and slightly irritating kook cut from similar cloth to that of Tori Amos. With her heavy red lipstick and mane of auburn hair she even looks like her.

Unsurprisingly, the sell out crowd who filled the Hammersmith Apollo last night were of the former persuasion. For them the 29-year-old Spektor currently commands the sort of intense devotion accorded to left-field rock bands like Radiohead, a group along with the Beatles whom she has cited as an influence. It was telling that one of the loudest cheers of the evening came towards the end of Spektor's two-hour show when she fluffed the lyrics to an old favourite, “Samson”, and with a giggling apology for having “fucked up” started it again from the beginning. To the delirious fans this was authenticity in excelsis, clear proof of Spektor's indie-kid disregard for showbiz etiquette. The fidgeting agnostic sitting next to me, however, sniffed that it sounded like a deliberate mistake.

Three years ago, after the release of her fourth album, Begin to Hope, few would have bothered to wonder. But the appearance this summer of Far – her most polished and pop-savvy production to date, thanks partly to the assistance of studio veteran Jeff Lynne of ELO – has turned many heads who might have missed Spektor when she supported the Strokes and the Kings of Leon on previous UK tours. Personally, I see Far as a necessary evolution of an extraordinary songwriting talent, a view clearly shared by Ms Spektor herself, who played every one of the album's 13 songs in last night's show.

She opened with track one, “The Celebration”, and stuck closely to Far's sequence for most of the first hour with the help of an unusually constituted band, comprising a string quartet and a drummer. The high point of this section was Spektor's stunning reflection on mortality and the religious impulse, "Laughing With", a song that taps both her early Russian Jewish upbringing and her gift for making memorable melodies follow, rather than lead, the lyrics. For those who haven't encountered her music before, by the way, this is an excellent one-stop test of whether you should bother with Spektor or not.

The paying Hammersmith audience had already voted on that one of course, but it was noticeable that they warmed more to the show's second half, which featured Spektor mainly solo, than they did to the chamber-pop stylings of phase one. As she swapped the baby grand for a stand-up electric piano and began to thump out the two-finger riff of “Dance Anthem of the 80s” the concert seemed to move up a gear. And when she strapped on her turquoise semi-acoustic guitar for "That Time" and another much loved oldie about overhearing a couple having sex next door, you sensed that this was the Regina Spektor that still appealed most strongly to the younger element who made up her original fanbase. It was her raw minimalism and simple storytelling that hooked them in the first place. New songs as intricate as “Human of the Year” or the gorgeously expansive “Man of a Thousand Faces” represent a very different, and far more sophisticated, proposition for the excitable Spektor massive.

She managed to pull the two halves neatly together at the end with a long selection of encores from the Begin to Hope album and its predecessor from 2003, Soviet Kitsch. The masterstroke however was the last song of the night, an unrecorded galloping country number called “Love You're a Whore”. The kids adored this for its irrepressibly rude urgency, while older heads like me marvelled at the fact that there is no genre now in which Spektor is afraid to exercise her polymathic musical skills. This woman really is a superstar in the making.

Regina Spektor website.

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very well said.

It sounds like you were standing next to Harriet Walker... It was one of the most beautiful experiences, in the top live music experiences of all time, with Radiohead and Paul Weller. She is an incredible musician, a writer which conjures a feeling of nostalgia, dreams and all things good and precious. The piano is an instrument which creates such feeling. She is not only talented and unusual, her spirit is striking. J'adore Regina. A well construscted and balanced article. Very well done

I was there on the night and have seen her since at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge and previously at Hyde Park and The Royal Festival hall, she is a most AMAZING talent, I only came across her when watching the J Ross show in May 2007 and am sorry that I did not know of her before that....all those wasted years! she sounds like 'mint chocolate dripping off of a silver spoon', is SOOOO talented and wonderful, I look forward to her next visit to these shores.

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