Regina Spektor Gets Close to Her Fans at Truly Intimate Rough Trade NYC Show

Regina Spektor - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Matthew Allen
A feel-good encounter with an artist on a roll.

For the last U.S. date in a micro-tour of North America celebrating the release of her new album Remember Us to Life, Regina Spektor left theaters behind in favor of the tiny concert room at Rough Trade in Williamsburg, N.Y. She had played storied Town Hall the night before, but this was something of a hometown friends-and-family show: The room's entire balcony was reserved for VIPs, and fans on the ground level had to enter a lottery two months early to score a ticket.

Though reportedly feeling under the weather (what looked like cups of tea and soup sat beside her piano bench), the singer entered in a buoyant mood, all smiles as she took the small stage alongside a string quartet and drummer. (A keyboardist and guitarist would join briefly later in the set.) Sitting down at a grand piano in a leopard-ish blouse and black jeans, she opened with "On the Radio," one of several songs she would perform from her breakthrough 2006 record Begin to Hope.

"We're so cozy," Spektor quipped, looking at the violinists a few feet away and the fans pressed close to her feet. They were near enough not to have to yell their "we love you"s, and when one man remarked quietly after "Grand Hotel" that it's "a beautiful song," she thanked him with a smile as big as her face seemed physically capable of.

"Bleeding Heart," the opening track from the new record, found Spektor in a dynamic mood, starting in a spirited whisper before briefly rocking out on the repeating chorus. Another new number, "Tornadoland," used a railroad-like clackety beat to accompany lyrics about someone seeking her moment, her chance to be heard. For "Small Bill$," the second single from the new disc, she stepped away from the piano to rap briefly. (And, perhaps, to let the first few rows glimpse a pair of adorable two-tone red shoes.)

Sitting back at the piano for some older material, Spektor introduced "Ballad of a Politician" by dedicating it "to our ability to vote," teasingly suggesting that, depending on the outcome next month, Americans mightn't always enjoy that right. Listeners were left to draw their own conclusions about Spektor's childhood in Russia and the Putin-lover hoping to take charge of this, her adopted country. The following song, "Apres Moi," incorporated a passage of Russian in the lyrics and was among the night's most piercing performances.

After playing a couple of tunes unaccompanied, Spektor welcomed her bandmates back to the stage for well-received fan favorites like "Blue Lips" and "Better." But the set-ending "Us," drawn from her 2004 major label debut Soviet Kitsch, earned perhaps the biggest response from the crowd. (At least until "Samson," which ended her encore.)

Midway through the night, Spektor acknowledged that her show was being held behind a record store by asking if listeners had bought anything on their way in. Some cheers went up, and when someone asked if she did the same, the performer acknowledged she was "super psyched" to have picked up some vinyl. Spektor took pains to note, though, that she was no vinyl snob: "I say whatever way you listen, it's cool."