Regina Spektor at Disney Hall


Drew A. Kelley

Contributing photographer for the Los Angeles Daily News

Stepping out onto the bright stage, sheathed in a deep blue glow from the spotlights, Regina Spektor looked pearlescent, held delicately in the giant clam shell that is Disney Hall. My close friend and I had been waiting for this concert for months, and the time had come at last. I gestured as if to dive off the ledge — right into Regina’s arms.

Regina Spektor, a Russian-American singer, was born in Moscow, 1980. Inheriting her grandfather’s piano, a Czech Petrof, and a familial love for music, she began to study classical music at the age of six. She had hoped to be a composer to the likes of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff, but found her dreams threatened when her family immigrated to the US to escape the anti-semitism of the former Soviet Union; they could not take the beloved piano with them.

Some characterize Spektor’s music as trivial or quirky. She has been portrayed as somewhat more of a “twee” artist – sometimes she had to play compositions specifically organized for her because of her tiny hands – and some of her more famous songs are considered poppy and cheerful.

However, what most characterizes her process is her tonal range, and intonation. She speaks with a sweet, Slavic lilt, and while she is fluent in Hebrew, Russian, and English, her singing is like a whole different language. During her performance, she went from soft, plucky arpeggios, to guttural growls, squeaks, and sounds adjacent to a cat coughing up a hairball.

I was surprised when people would laugh at these parts. It’s not that it seemed like she minded, but I think it expresses a sort of close-mindedness towards what music is supposed to sound like. I think it is important to respect this duality in Regina, between soft and weird, because when you listen to the howls and chirps, the pure intensity of her music is revealed.

When I first started listening to Regina Spektor, I was in elementary school. My dad had me listen to the album Begin to Hope, and while he became obsessed with the song “Fidelity,” (once listening to it over and over for a five-hour plane trip), I fell in love with “On the Radio.” “On the Radio” tells a story of driving hearses through crowds, laughing up storms, and getting stung by “a million ancient bees,” while listening to the DJ fall asleep. It’s confusing; when listening to her music, you have no idea what’s going to happen next. The beauty of Regina’s endless story reminded me of something.

When I was little, my extended family used to get together every year for Passover at my great-grandmother’s house. My favorite person to talk to at those gatherings was my great uncle— I remember him telling a story that lasted more than an hour, and at the end I asked, “So what’s the point?” to which he responded, “I don’t know!” and continued to tell the story, layering on every last detail.

Listening to Regina Spektor reminds me of those jewish folktales. The way she ebbs and flows, can tell a story of war, or family. Her sounds only punctuate these stories, always adding to, and never finishing them. Like uncapping different layers of a Russian doll, she reveals generations of her own.

Even if the endings of her songs are not definite, just like my great uncles, the emotions she conveys are rich and powerful. It’s hard to tell which sounds are intentional, and which aren’t — but maybe that’s just not “the point.” Maybe just feeling is enough to truly appreciate her music. There were moments when I felt as though I blacked out, and the only thing I could see was Regina, playing the piano with her eyes closed.

After singing about hearses, bees, and DJ’s, she trills:
“No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood”

It was the night of Purim, a holiday Regina remarked is “a lot like Halloween—that is, if Halloween involved the attempted genocide of Jewish people.” Purim is a story that can be experienced in about five minutes or a five-hour car ride with my great uncle. He saw the importance of telling that story, and a passion in the way he told it, just as Regina did. She sang a harrowing song called “Ink Stains.” “Ink Stains” has never been recorded, as a digital copy would not allow you to hear her rage, her despair, as she wailed:

All the Holocaust deniers
To a bathhouse warm and quiet
Complementary soap
complementary haircut
And gas ’em up until they know that
All the ink stains on their wrists mean business
And God is the almighty witness”

She paused after that song, explaining that she didn’t know how to follow it, or how to ever rationalize the concept of a Holocaust denier. The pain of the room felt concentrated, magnetized by her piano. Regina had broken all of our hearts in a song that none of us knew. And somehow, she still had the perfect response.

She smiled and said, “My friend told me that there is going to be a full moon tonight, so I think we should all just howl!” It felt strange, and I wasn’t sure if people were going to do it in such a formal setting, but then she started to count down and the crowd erupted with noise. It felt as though we were taking part in Regina’s music, channeling our feelings into pure, chaotic sound in order to heal something inside. The howling went on for a while, then she fluttered back to the piano, and resolved her performance.

There is something entirely unbridled about Regina Spektor’s music, something that might not match up with her classical roots, or conform to the standards of typical piano-music, but tells a story in its purest form.

A final note: You can listen to Regina Spektor on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you stream your songs. If you can, I highly recommend looking up recordings of some of her live performances—I forgot to mention the part where she tap danced and drummed on a chair!

If you would like to support her directly, you can go to where she has information on her amazing tour and merchandise that directly funds aid/relief for Ukrainian citizens!