Regina Spektor looked a little shy when she stepped onto the stage. Piles of amps and guitars and drum kits that belonged to the headlining acts, Louis XIV and Keane, stood behind her. The crowd was still walking in and taking their seats. She grabbed the microphone and launched into a bluesy acopella version of “Eight Miles High.” She tapped her finger on the microphone to keep time. Her tough vocals occasionally had Russian inflected little girl moments, like a kittenish Cold War spy. After that act of bravery, she had the audience’s full attention.
Regina Spektor is an utterly self-assured performer. She came out of New York’s anti-folk scene with a repertoire of narrative songs. She can be ferocious. And she can be silly and still be cool. Her piano chops show her years of classical training. But even when she picked up a guitar and accompanied herself with single, unsteady note, she commands the stage.
As she worked through songs from Soviet Kitsch and her earlier albums, she won over an audience that had bought tickets to see a pop act instead an odd cabaret singer with a foreign accent. Spektor closed her set with “Poor Little Rich Boy,” a sneering portrait of a beautiful young boy with money. She played piano chords with the left hand and with the right she pounded a drumstick against a stool to keep the beat. Spektor, unfortunately, was too punctual. She started on time and ended after exactly 30 minutes. I would have preferred that she play for hours.