It’s a seemingly innocuous statement taken at face value. But color in Regina Spektor’s back story, and the words take on a considerate amount of heft. Fleeing the former Soviet Union when anti-semitism became “too much to bear.” Spektor reflected onstage at the Chicago Theatre, thousands of miles from her former homeland and a million miles from the life she once had to endure. In a sense, she is the promise of America. Arriving as a refugee, she carved out not only a career, but, in essence, the American dream. It has provided her with, to say the least, a very unique perspective on life in America today.
Her music can certainly be consider a metaphor for that sort of nightmare turned success story. Performing with a quintet that featured a keyboard player, a drummer, a cellist and herself on a baby grand piano, Spektor delivered spare, melodic versions of songs like “The Trapper and the Furrier,” “Sailor Song,” “Sellers of Flowers” and “You’ve Got Time.” On the surface, her music has always been inviting. Almost childlike in its appeal, the tunefulness is immediately welcoming. But Spektor never cheats herself of the tumultuous undercurrents that are very much a part of her personal journey.
“I’m not very good at speaking,” she told her audience (all evidence to the contrary) before telling the story of a Chicago woman she first met when touring as an opening act for The Strokes. Spektor would invite the ninety year old (and fellow Russian immigrant) to shows and they’d talk in her dressing room before her performances. She’d slept on her couch in her early days of touring, back when she was “dirty and hungry.” “I’ve since lost her,” she explained, on her way to introducing a Russian folk song (“The Prayer of Francois Villon” (Molitva)), a prayer to her, and proclaimed, “But I believe in art, in friendship, in love and i believe that we will once again elect people that represent US!”
It’s a beautiful paradox which is easily missed even though it sometimes occurs within the space of a single song. During her performance of “Fidelity,” the audience bought in immediately, singing along and becoming immediately entranced by the infectious melody but dismissing the trepidation in a line like “I never loved nobody fully/Always one foot on the ground.”
Moments later, the mood shifts and she declares “I got lost in the sounds,” and her audience came right along with her.
-Review and live photos Curt Baran