Regina Spektor – Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne

Regina Spektor – Hamer Hall

Written by Sarah Rix

Photos by Rick Clifford

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It’s a good thing that Regina Spektor is a high functioning individual. Her Sunday night performance at Melbourne’s spectacular Hamer Hall could otherwise have gone in a completely different direction. Her first Australian show in six years was billed as a “very special solo performance” – effectively leaving all eyes solely on the Russian-born, American-based musician.

At first glance, her jitteriness might easily have been passed off to nerves or the inherent quirkiness she possesses in droves. Instead, though, Spektor repeatedly told the audience she was tripping. In some ways, it was endearing – the crowd empathetic to the journey and process of this talented musician. In other ways, it was puzzling.

Was she actually high? Was she really seeing the walls melt and the colours go hazy? Did she know all eyes were on here? Were her repeated instances of things like “I feel the world moving”, “You guys are all really pretty in here. And it’s not just cause I’m tripping”, and “Hi guys! I’m f*cked up! I can’t really complain… it’s kind of nice to be out of time and space” convey her true mental state for the evening? It was truthfully hard to say – and, honestly, that’s a testament to Spektor’s natural talent and artistry.

Regardless of how out of her mind she might have been (or at least wanted to appear,) she performed flawlessly, seemed both present and engaged with her audience, and delivered a captivating evening to her sold out audience.

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Much of her night was spent behind the grand piano, though Spektor did switch things up with turns on a keyboard (complete with a drumstick in one hand as she played an actual chair for “Poor Little Rich Boy”,) a guitar (“Bobbing for Apples” and “That Time”), and solo a cappella (“Silly Eye-Color Generalizations” and “My Man”).

While the microphone-only numbers came across like a novelty – Spektor switching it up for the sake of it, rather than the effect – her best moments were on crowd favourites such as “Better”, complete with an audience clap-along and “Eet”, from 2009’s Fair, which received an equally warm welcome.

You also have to feel sorry for anyone who sees Spektor in a venue that isn’t Hamer Hall. The acoustics and surroundings suited her beautifully and the crowd treated her well. They were equal parts respectful during her songs (at times you could hear a pin drop as Spektor settled in for the next number,) eager participants when called upon, and up for a good bit of banter – including some discussion about why Tasmanian honey is so delicious (“Incest!” suggested a voice from the back.)

She took song requests, too, prefacing “Wallet” by saying “If I make a mistake, it’s all his fault.” Spektor didn’t – for the record. Nor did she on the building “Prisoners” which saw her clapping emphatically into the microphone for some added percussive elements.

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“The Devil Come to Bethlehem” tied in the theme for the night – her performance part of the MEL&NYC Festival(which extends to MoMA at the NGV.) Spektor prefaced the 2003 song by asking the crowd if they wanted to hear an old one, further going on to tell everyone “The only reason I know this song is because someone in a bar recorded it and now it’s on YouTube. Thank you, mysterious New York person.”

With tensions in American politics at an all-time high and Spektor’s own Russian background front of mind, there was some talk of government as well. “Don’t you just notice how politics attracts the best people?” she asked, prior to “Ballad of a Politician”, from 2012’s What We Saw from the Cheap Seats. It’s a subject that rings true today more than ever and – as much as we can praise Spektor for her musical talent – this is where she truly shines. She’s able to write such rich, compelling, out-of-the-box narratives and convey it with deft, approachable capabilities. The lengthy “Obsolete” was a prime example of this and was delivered with such care and emotion from start to finish that it seemed she was performing it for both the first and last time.s

“Thank you all for bearing with my surrealness today,” she said as an introduction to her one-song encore of “Samson”. Surreal is right and the 24-song showing was something you’d be hard-pressed to find many musicians pulling off – let alone musicians that claim to be as blissfully high as Spektor.

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