The chance to see Regina Spektor playing live on tour doesn’t come often. The Russian-American singer-songwriter took a four year break from her music career since giving birth to her son, but recently released her newest offering, Remember Me To Life. As long-term fans, we were delighted to finally see her debut her new songs at Bristol’s Colston Hall on a rainy Saturday evening – a welcome break from our third-year reality of reading and deadlines.
The concert followed a turbulent week in international politics, which left many people around the world reeling – including Spektor herself. Following her energetic rendition of ‘You’ve Got Time’, soundtrack to the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, she could hardly keep from mentioning the shock election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. Spektor pleaded with her audience: ‘Promise me there are still good people in the world, Bristol?’.
this with her most impassioned song of the night, the cynical and defiant ‘Ballad of a Politician’, in clear reference to the US President-elect. In the context of Spektor’s childhood, which saw her family seeking asylum in New York City for reasons of religious persecution, the song’s assertion ‘But I am, but I am, but I am, not a number, not a name’ was particularly emotive, given Trump’s infamously harsh stance on immigration. It is moments such as this one that Spektor’s songs are made for, presenting complex political and philosophical realities with a tone of determined, and often humorous optimism.
The songwriter also paid homage to the recent death of Leonard Cohen, calling him an embodiment of ‘all that is good and beautiful in the world’. Her cover of Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ was a heartfelt and poignant tribute to the renowned singer-songwriter, and encapsulated the unique and comical candour for which he was known.
Fans of Spektor, both old and new, would not have been disappointed by the set list on offer. In amongst many of her most famous tracks such as ‘On the Radio’, ‘Blue Lips’ and ‘Fidelity’, she performed almost every song from the new album. A personal favourite amongst these was ‘Grand Hotel’, a melodic track invoking an imaginary, dreamlike establishment where nothing about the Wes Anderson-esque world containing it is quite as it seems.
Another particularly moving moment was Spektor’s rendition of ‘Obsolete’, the album’s longest track by far. The song is stripped back, using no percussion and relying solely on her powerful vocals, accompanied by the piano. Throughout the concert, she had an effortless way of singing each song with complete and utter conviction, as if she was performing it for the first time.
The high ceilings of the 18th century Colston Hall were a perfect fit for Spektor. Her clear, melodic voice filled the room, and throughout the performance she looked perfectly at home sitting at the imposing grand piano, which dominated the minimal stage set. Spektor is a natural, unforced performer: despite her obvious shyness, she was an engaging and endearing stage presence. There were, of course, some moments of notable eccentricity from the unorthodox vocalist – for example, when she assumed the stance of a rapper for a playful rendition of ‘Small Bill$’, accompanied by her husband Jack Dishel on an electric guitar.
In the aftermath of a demoralizing week, Spektor, as always, succeeded in reminding her fans that there was still cause for hope. After the concert, having missed the last train back to Exeter we found ourselves stranded in Bristol for the night until the morning train. Exhausted, lost, and still laughing, we were reminded of a piece of advice offered by Spektor in the wonderfully optimistic ‘Older and Taller’: “’Enjoy your youth’ sounds like a threat… But I will anyway.”