Review: Regina Spektor at Sydney Opera House, 9 July 2018

Music Insight, 2018.
Image Courtesy of Sydney Opera House/Prudence Upton

New York’s queen of indie, Regina Spektor, received a rapturous welcome at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on Monday night. Debuting her 2016 record Remember Us to Lifeto Australian audiences in her first visit in six years, jetlag didn’t stop the Russian-American singer-songwriter from delivering a unique performance.

Playing a stripped back session in the round, Spektor described the setting as “some interstellar shit… like I’m in a dream!” before opening with ‘Folding Chair’ from her 2009 record, Far. Drawing from her vast catalogue, there were tunes for fans old and new as she soared across 25 original songs, before offering an awkward and heartwarming cover of John Lennon’s ‘Real Love’ and reciting Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus as a ‘hello’ from New York to Sydney.

While stumbling on her own complex arrangements in ‘The Light’ and ‘Sellers of Flowers,’ the mistakes of an artist “living on a delay” felt light as she tinkered with her grand piano to compose a fitting conclusion to a piece or recall a trickier chord. The piano was discarded for a synthesiser and percussive wooden chair whacked with a single drumstick during ‘Poor Little Rich Boy.’ Instruments were left aside altogether as Spektor serenaded those “in the cheap seats” with an a cappella performance of ‘Silly Eye-Colour Generalisations.’ Spektor’s rich voice cast the audience into stunned silence as she swayed around the stage, giggling happily at its conclusion.

The silence didn’t last long as the hall filled with crowds clapping in time to ‘Better,’ matching the artist’s intensity as she slammed the piano. Hunched over and beaming, she leaned up amidst laughter to suggest that a “clap sauna” (in which audiences shower an individual with rhythmic claps and cheers) may be the trick to making our collective fortune.

Each artist has their quirks, whether it’s a flick of the wrist at the end of a song or tucking their hair behind an ear before its beginning, but none surpasses Spektor’s routine before her fingers even touch the keys. Rubbing her hands, sipping water, adjusting her dress and taking a deep breath made each song feel like it was being played for the first time, with all the anxiety and excitement that brings. At first charming, the ritual repetition before and between songs eventually made for a palpably awkward silence. Despite this, Spektor remained immersed in the music, eyes closed, as she showed off her stunning vocal range set to lilting melodies and captivating compositions.

Finishing her planned set with the instantly recognisable ‘Us,’ Spektor appeared genuinely surprised returning a few minutes later to send off audiences with an encore performance of ‘Samson.’ Twirling around the packed hall and stopping to accept a rose and card from a young fan perched on her father’s shoulder, Spektor left to a well-deserved standing ovation for an artist whose stories continue to enthral and entertain.

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