Regina Spektor is not a lady who visits these shores very often. Last playing the North of Ireland in early 2006, her most recent Dublin performance was a blink-and-you’d-miss-it appearance supporting David Gray in December 2009. Putting it bluntly, this is a Regina-starved audience who have had nothing to do while waiting all these years but sit and listen to CDs and memorise lyrics, wistfully waiting for her to reappear. A Steinway & Sons piano sits expectantly on stage, also waiting to be brought to life. The mood is… anticipatory.
First, though, we have Only Son. Another Russian-born New York resident, Jack Dishel also happens to be Regina’s husband, which goes some way to explaining the support choice, which at first seems incongruous. His noisy guitar and mournful face and hair go some way to dispelling the hopeful vibe, a weary Dylanesque eye cast over the audience subduing them. Until ‘Magic’, that is. It contains moments of delight, whimsical chord progressions that put him on the right foot with us and while songs like ‘Stamp Your Name On It’ lack vocal flair, their plainness sailing dangerously close to indie rock territory, his wistful tone as he sings of genetic engineering and the low moan of the cello help us accept him, almost with open arms. What the audience is really craving, though, is a female voice.
Their cravings are answered in spades, an a capella version of ‘Ain’t No Cover’ performed at the very front of the stage, Regina leaning in to the audience as if trying to see the whites of their eyes. It’s an unusual choice, leaning towards the jazzy beginning of her career, words drawled with New York slowness and her impeccable fingertapping timing the only accompaniment reminiscent of her earlier ‘difficult’ albums such as Songs. It’s a bit more plain sailing from here on in, ‘The Calculation’ treading familiar territory with the cello adding gravitas to an otherwise light and airy song.
For an artist with such a heavy body of work, the audience expects communication, life stories, a childhood anecdote perhaps. None of this is forthcoming, Spektor preferring to communicate with the crowd by smiling one minute and making serious eyes the next. She may indeed be reduced to a one syllable “Wow!” by the devoted audience, but from some angles she appears not to be having the best of nights, having cancelled a gig only a few days previously because of a migraine and cryptically posting on her Facebook page about Dublin, “third time’s the charm.” What happened on her first and second visits, we wonder? A request by her for the lights to be turned down is sweet enough, but followed with a barbed “I’m already having a hard enough time as it is”, leading to a squirming awkwardness beneath audience enjoyment, wondering if she really wants to be there.
What we miss in stage banter is made up in sheer song quantity, each tune following hot on the heels of the last in a note perfect assembly line, her voice actually showing more strength live than is evidenced on record, dipping and swirling with graceful ease. Some of the quirkiness she is known for is lacking, depending heavily on material from Far it’s a ballady set that perhaps wallows too deeply into ’80s sincerity with ‘How’, a quick veer into ‘Oh, Marcello’ saving the day with it’s otherworldly conversationalism. ‘The Prayer’ brings out a guttural Edith Piaf in her voice, the sadness of the Russian lyrics dripping from the stage.
One thing that isn’t in question though, is her ability to delight a roomful of people, sniffles being heard from various pockets of the Olympia as personal favorites are played and heartstrings are pulled, an encore bringing out the big guns with a perfect version of ‘Us’, trembling strings all present and a much requested finale of ‘Samson’, the word-perfect audience singing along in a reverie that seemed to touch Spektor more than anything else during the evening.