Regina Spektor lands in Ben Gurion airports ahead of concert.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Life would be a little more dreary without Regina Spektor. A true original in a sea of pop conventionalists, Spektor brings vivid tints to her music that jolt listeners with the same effect of emerging from the black-and-white tornado-driven house in Kansas to Technicolor Oz.
Over the course of 15 years and seven sparkling albums, the 40-year-old Spektor has emerged as one of the most unusual and imaginative singer/songwriters of the young century. Using a palette that spans piano ballads, punk, jazz, pop and beatboxing, Spektor creates a rich world of characters, melodies and theatrics described by music site Pitchfork as “unabashed earnestness” that has cemented her status as an eccentric cult hero.
, which reviewed her show on August 1 in Cambridge, England, wrote: “Where most songwriters inhabit their songs, Spektor has a set of fictional characters inhabiting most of hers, and she acts out their stories… Tonight she enforces the rule that there’s no such thing as too much theatricality, rolling her Rs with relish during the Russian language verses of ‘Après Moi’ and adding helium-squeak high notes to the choruses of ‘Bleeding Heart,’” referring to two of her most enduring songs.
Her latest release, 2016’s Remember Us to Life, was praised by Rolling Stone for its “storytelling compression” and “brilliant songcraft.” Not bad for a Soviet-born Jew who moved with her family to the US in the late 1980s when she was eight.
Spektor’s father, Ilya, an amateur violinist, and her mother, Bella, a music professor, provided her with a love of music. She grew up playing piano and listening to everything from famous Russian bards like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava to smuggled-in Western rock ‘n’ roll like The Beatles and Queen. Almost deciding to remain in the Soviet Union so Spektor wouldn’t have to leave her piano behind, the family eventually left. With the assistance of HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), they settled in the Bronx. As a teen, Spektor attended a seminary in Paramus, New Jersey, before transferring to a public school in nearby Fair Lawn. She kept to her classical studies in the US, practicing piano in the basement of her New York synagogue. But she was also exposed to the New York City pastiche of hip hop, punk and rock. Spektor didn’t try her hand at songwriting, though, until a summer trip Israel with the Nesiya Institute found her making up songs on long hikes. Bonding with the works of like-minded female singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco resulted in her finding the courage to begin performing. After completing a studio composition program at the Conservatory of Music at Purchas College, she began gaining notoriety in New York’s anti-folk scene. A contract with Sire Records soon followed, along with an opening act slot for punky New York faves the Strokes, and Spektor was a well-kept secret no more.
Spektor courted mainstream success when her tune “You’ve Got Time” was chosen as the theme song for the blockbuster TV series Orange Is the New Black. That song receives a bigger reaction when she performs, but there’s no need to worry that Spektor will ever be in danger of becoming popular, in the Taylor Swift, or even Lorde, definition of the word.
Spektor first appeared in Israel in 2007 for two performances at the Barby Club, and she returned in 2013 as a star, selling out the Caesarea Amphitheater. On August 19, she returns to perform at the Ra’anana Amphitheater.
Spektor’s connection to Israel and her Jewish roots remain strong and are often expressed publicly. In 2008, she performed on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as part of celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel. Two years later, she appeared at a White House reception before the Obamas to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month. She has blown a shofar onstage and performed Hannah Senesh’s “Eli, Eli” in Hebrew. On the cover of her Begin to Hope album, she is wearing a Star of David pendant.
In 2009, in the midst of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, Spektor penned a post on her MySpace page defending Israel and criticizing what she regarded as unfair media coverage of its actions.
But mainly, she has concentrated on music. And her penchant for looking at the world through a different set of lenses has continued unabated. Pitchfork, in its review of the “somber minor key” Remember Us to Life, wrote: “The biggest buy-in with Spektor’s music has been that earnestness, its requiring you to be OK with songs that talk about rowboats feeling trapped in paintings, or laughing at God as one of us, or ditching your corporate job to take off your shoes and splash around in puddles.”
For Spektor’s devoted following, accepting that suspension of belief and joining her vibrant world is the path to temporary nirvana.
Regina Spektor performs tomorrow at Ra’anana Amphi-Park.
Doors open at 9 p.m., concert starts at 10 p.m.