Singing and Dying

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We love Regina Spektor — I think that’s been safely established. She has this Russian lion-in-pajamas thing going on where she’s singing playful little lyrics in a soft singsongy voice, and then the moment comes (and this moment, in all her songs, it happens) — catching you by surprise, with your pants down, just when you thought it was safe to curl up next to her — and suddenly the song is all teeth and fangs, roaring down your door, throwing a wicked metaphor or a twisted simile, rocking and thrashing violently, the way only a piano player can.

It always happens, in every song. Sometimes it’s a sudden switch of language, to French and Russian in “Apres Moi,” or the drop of a delicate Jewish metaphor that you know she wrote thinking she’d be the only one to get it, but we’re here, Regina, and we’re listening, and we get it, too. And sometimes it’s just the way she leaps into the microphone, ready to eat it, and gives the song a whole new energy.

This is Regina Spektor. Her new live CD+DVD, Live in London, was just released. It has 20 tracks, including a Guns ‘n Roses cover (!) played with her string orchestra (!!). And each of those 20 songs are loaded with that moment, the moment of the bite.

I will admit to skepticism. I’m not one to fork over needed cash for an album full of songs I already have. But, along with the new material (including the song “The Call,” a beautiful track which Spektor recorded for The Chronicles of Narnia–which made me do a doubletake; a Russian Jewish indie-rock hero recording a song for a Christian-fundamentalist fairytale adaptation made by Disney, the most massive corporation there is?–but she sells out in the most graceful and cool and still-righteous way there is, and it’s a great song, and anyway, you can buy this recording and not have to give Disney any money) and the redone classics (“Eet,” above, is electric, and “Dance Anthem of the 1980s” is awe-inspiring, especially Spektor’s beatbox) all make it worth your while.

Okay. Deep breath.

But that singular spark of Spektor’s — the bite that I was talking about before — it marks this disc especially. A few weeks after this recording, Daniel Cho, Spektor’s cellist and musical director, drowned and died. And that eerie precedence fills every moment of this concert with a loaded, creepy, and beautiful foreboding. When you’re playing a song with just a piano and some strings, there’s a delicateness to the music, a sense that, if anyone were to stop playing, the song would fall apart. Maybe I’m just reading too much into this recording and this night, but I’ve been in bands before, and I know how much you’re leaning on each other at every moment. And it feels like — this night, or this moment, or something — everyone’s ready for something to break…and everyone is ready to catch each other when it does.

Posted on December 21, 2010

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