A big theatre, and a large piano, no support act and a seated audience. If REGINA SPEKTOR has made a career out of doing things a little differently, then tonight’s gig is no exception. In fact, with the setting, the staging and the crowd, tonight feels a little more like one of those old-timey An Audience With… occasions, the ones that are repeated occasionally on ITV – albeit one with fewer anecdotes and a lot more beatboxing.
And it’s Spektor and her voice that sit at the centre of everything – even touring with a band of drums, cello and keyboard. The Empire’s lighting, turning the place red for Bleeding Heart, and then blue for Blue Lips, ultimately draws the gaze back to Regina. And it’s understandable – from the very beginning of her career, Spektor has put herself into her songs, even as they have moved away from the NYC anti-folk of Soviet Kitsch and towards the more prosaic balladeering of What We Saw From The Cheap Seats and, latest offering, Remember Us To Life.
It’s the latter that dominates the early part of the set, with the vaudeville setting giving life to the likes of Grand Hotel and Small Bill$. Après Moi is similarly theatrical, while Eet and Dance Anthem Of The 80s (both from 2009 album Far) showcase a poppier side. Ballad Of A Politician, from Cheap Seats, is Spektor’s White House satire, while it’s the theme from Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, You’ve Got Time, that brings the first big audience reaction.
Some of the more interesting parts of the night, though, come when Spektor steps away from the piano. She accompanies herself on guitar for the beatnik poetics of Bobbing For Apples, followed up by That Time, a melancholic, hipster reflection of fads and freakouts. Spektor later takes the mic for a cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps: always a good way of endearing yourself to a Liverpool audience. That goodwill comes in handy when, on reaching the chorus of Sailor Song, Spektor stops, unsure of the notes – and a helpful (and perhaps, too knowledgeable) audience member yells out: “C, F, C, B♯!”
It’s a bizarre, twee and ultimately heartening moment, but totally in keeping with Spektor’s persona. The singer later ‘fesses up that an earlier evacuation alarm was caused when “we were trying to steam something in the dressing room.” And it’s the songs that close the night that offer, perhaps, the most perfect combination of these three sides of her songwriting. Ne Me Quitte Pas, with its tales of New York and Paris in the snow, gives way to the blazon of Us and its titular couple, whose statued noses have “begun to rust”. After the crowd bring Spektor and the band back for an encore and they give us Fidelity, Spektor is left under the spotlight, alone again. The opening chords of finale Samson draw audible gasps of recognition from the crowd, before they fall silently under its spell and leave Spektor’s voice to echo into the Biblical silence, before rising again to applaud at its close.