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Friday, 09 November 2012 19:00

Concert review and set list: Regina Spektor (with Only Son) impresses a devoted, sold-out crowd at the Pageant, Thursday, November 8

Regina Spektor at the Pageant Regina Spektor at the Pageant Colin Suchland
Written by Will Kyle
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Regina Spektor's husband, Jack Dishel, known musically as Only Son, opened the evening, standing alone on stage playing over pre-recorded backing tracks.

Only Son's performance at the Pageant induced a nagging bit of cognitive dissonance. Bombastic drum parts, backing vocals, bass, and more, all blared from the speakers as Only Son strummed and sang "It's a Boy" from 2011's "Searchlight." Although the song featured a nice lilt, Dishel's backing track, with its ghostly harmony parts, drowned out both singer and guitar.

"Magic" sounded like a Death Cab for Cutie B-side. On "Long Live the Future." Dishel's backing track of blips and beeps washed out his vocals, and so the audience chattered over his set, missing the connection for which Dishel pushed so hard on stage. I blame the wonky use of backing tracks. Where was his band? Only Son closed his set with "Stamp Your Name on It," but its electric guitar and propulsive vibe didn't seem to belong.

After a set break, Regina Spektor appeared in a flowing blue dress singing "Ain't No Cover." The song remained solely vocal with the addition of Spektor tapping out a beat on the microphone. The crowd roared when Spektor sat down at the piano toward the song's conclusion. "The Calculation," from 2009's "Far," was vibrant with drums, ebullient piano and Spektor's soaring vocals. "On the Radio" was more somber, yet playful with kick drum-heartbeats and lower octave piano accents. "Small Town Moon," from 2012's "What We Saw From the Cheap Seats," stood sultry with distorted guitar, the audience offering up the song's hand-clapped parts.

"Ode to Divorce" was introspective with cello and scaling piano. The song subdued the audience; I heard no extra chatter, just silence and Spektor's gorgeous work. "Patron Saint" brought the tone up again with bouncy drums. At the song's end, Spektor held a long note that pushed the audience into near frenzy. "How," "All the Rowboats" and "Blue Lips" were solid, each full of emotion-based tonal moves, light humor and playful piano work. Spektor played with a certain nuanced calculation that ushered the audience into her emotive sphere.

While Spektor achieved a strong connection with the audience, I found that the songstress' sound was not hitting as hard as I would have liked. Even when Spektor was playing with her band, the sound felt weak and under-driven. I realize Spektor's show is intimate and often quiet, which is her modality, but at shows I like to feel more of an audio punch. Maybe I'm going deaf.

"Eet" got the audience singing with Spektor's ornate chorus. The song's verse built like a pre-ordained radio-hit. Only Son reappeared on "Call Them Brothers," ballad-like with dual male and female vocals, Dishnel adding a light Beatles feel to the texture. I loved "The Prayer of Francois Villon," a cover song, which Spektor sang in Russian. Even though I didn't understand the words, Spektor's body language and timbre infused the moment with emotional sense.

"Dance Anthem of the 80's" showcased a playful Spektor. Although I admired how she moved between styles from song to song, here the move felt manic, slipping from resonant and deeply affective Russian to Black Eyed Peas-esque drum and bass. The audience clapped along on "Better" as Spektor beat-boxed. "Don't Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)" gave a French chorus a quirky verse. "Firewood" was dark and quiet with a winter aspect. It was a nice departure from the playful mood, one the evening's best songs.

"Sailor Song" played as drunken pub, piano rock all the way, with a stomping beat and Spektor railing, "Mary Anne's a bitch!" Spektor closed her set with "Ballad of a Politician" and "The Party," and both were performed with hearty bravado rooted in the serious part of Spektor's catalogue.

Spektor returned for an encore, including "Us," which amazed with perfectly sung, falsetto lyrics. On "Fidelity," the audience sang along with Spektor: "It breaks my hear-ar-ar-aha-aha-rt." Spektor sat alone playing "Samson" to a hushed crowd. After this, the house lights went dark for a moment as if allowing the audience to digest the beauty of the evening. Soon the lights were back on and we filed out into the cool night.

Set list:

Ain't No Cover
The Calculation
On the Radio
Small Town Moon
Ode to Divorce
Patron Saint
All the Rowboats
Blue Lips
Call Them Brothers (with Only Son)
The Prayer of François Villon (cover)
Dance Anthem of the 80's
Don't Leave Me
Sailor Song
Ballad of a Politician
The Party

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