When you’re going to a gig there are a few things you should do. Firstly, it's probably a good idea to find out where the venue is; secondly, it doesn’t do any harm to find out when the last train home is; and thirdly, get there on time. We managed one out of three, and, having missed the support act, and after enlisting the help of some fellow gig-goers, whose knowledge of the geography of Birmingham city centre, extended – like our own – to “I think its somewhere near the Bullring isn’t it?” we were just in time to get a drink and find somewhere to stand for the first song. Phew. Once we were set I had a chance to look around (as well as time to unsuccessfully avoid getting bonked on the head by some sketchy, but admittedly rather attractive girls throwing Regina Spektor badges from the balcony above.) The first thing that struck me was that Regina had pulled a rather unusual crowd. The success of the latest album ‘Begin to Hope’ had brought in a number who you’d imagine had picked up their copy at Sainsbury’s as a quirky change from that James Blunt CD they bought last week. I also recall the middle-aged couple standing in front of us shifting rather uncomfortably amongst a sea of teenagers. But it seems that Regina also has a following of aficionados, happy to clap widely and perhaps rather smugly at the more obscure tracks from her non-UK released albums to which most of us were unaware.

Without doubt her voice is very impressive. I’m sure that with the passing of the famous tenor Pavarotti recently people will remark that his voice had to be heard live to be truly appreciated. Now, I don’t think for a moment that Regina sounds much like Pavarotti…which is probably for the best… but I did think prior to the gig that the opposite might be true of Regina, and that she’d be hard pushed to reproduce live the power, clarity and tone of her evidently attentively produced and polished albums. She, however, did so admirably. 'Poor Little Rich Boy' serves as perfect example. It was played one-handed on a beautiful piano, which she attempted to smash to pieces with a drumstick wielded in her right hand. Her vocals, especially on the repeated line “You’re so God damn young, and you don’t love your girlfriend” were delivered with an intimidating power. But she could also muster diversity; my favourite song of the night was a melancholy 'Summer in the City'. A song whose lyrics describe a Regina whose beauty and obvious appeal to the opposite sex doesn’t rid her of the loneliness of missing the one she loved. For many popular music artists to sing about loneliness would evoke only cynicism, but the tenderness of the vocal performance and the honesty of the lyrics induced sympathy. (Especially from an artist who usually avoids bearing her soul through the use of characterisation and narrative; if you know Regina’s work you’ll know exactly what I mean if you think of the ‘Mary Ann’ character, as well as the Samson and Delilah story.)

Predictably, the singles 'Us' and 'Samson' were very well received. Surprisingly I was rather unimpressed by both. 'Us' definitively lacked the powerful staccato piano of the album version, and was perhaps the only song of the set to miss the presence of a supporting band. It sounded hollow and passionless, without the bite to the vocals expected in the lines “We’re living in a den of thieves, and its contagious.” 'Samson' is quite clearly a wonderful song, but the performance was merely a run-through of a hit, and lack the thoughtful care awarded to songs such as 'Field Below'. Perhaps Regina is tiring of playing them both, or perhaps I’m hard to please, but all the same they could not damage what was undoubtedly an excellent set.











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Commenting On: Carling Academy, Birmingham, 5/9/2007 - Regina Spektor








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