Regina Spektor Elevates Spirits Through Powerful Simplicity

By Jaden Gill, Managing Editor

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Thirty minutes after the show was said to begin, the Russian-born singer-songwriter pranced onto the stage with the unifying professionalism of a classical pianist and the whimsy of some sort of mythological pixie. Two ceramic mugs of hot water and what looked like a tincture sat beside the isolated grand piano, most likely provided to soothe her voice through the set of daring falceto and powerful ballads that Regina Spektor has impressively mastered.

“It’s my first time here in Santa Barbara,” she uttered in a voice soft enough to halt the audience’s chatter. “You guys have figured it out, cause I saw dolphins.”

A sense of euphoria swept over even the youngest audience members when Spektor paid a visit to Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theater on April 5th. Through her contradicting, ebullient persona and deeply compelling lyrical stylization, the crowd was mesmerized from the beginning chords of “On the Radio,” to the emotional finale of “Samson.”

Spektor’s quirky but gentle personality shone through numerous times, most notably when she began discussing the Arlington’s acclaimed architecture.

“All I’ve ever wanted is to stand on a balcony and just sing,” she said, admiring the concert hall’s terraces. “I guess I can do that at the hotel.”

With a voice that makes adults want to dance and children drift to sleep, Spektor has mastered the art of creating melody that simultaneously uplifts and comforts. The secret to her songs’ charm lies in her unique vocal approach, of course, but her strategic storytelling is what is most attention grabbing.

“Tornadoland” was a definite crowd favorite, with the lyrics “Enjoy your youth, sounds like a threat,” followed by roaring drum beats. The song resonated through the theater, all the way up to the “cheap seats,” ironically paralleling the title of her sixth studio album, “What we Saw from the Cheap Seats.”

She is an exquisite songwriter, but on stage, she becomes a preacher with the rare ability to trigger deeply buried emotions. When she took the stage with ballads like “Blue Lips” and “The Light,” all seemed to stand still, even the smoke, only visible under the purple light rays, swirled in slow motion.

As if she could not appear any more talented, the 37-year-old displayed her cultural background, in “Apres Moi,” where she blended the languages of English and Russian to create a commanding dynamic.

Spektor took a break from her original work, during the set, to cover Leonard Cohen’s, “Chelsea Hotel #2,” bringing tears to the eyes of many; partly because the song is so reminiscent and partly because her rendition was simply angelic.

The live band, combined with the dramatic lighting, played a colossal role in the theatrical aspects of it all. The strings were particularly profound, as cellist, Yoed Nir, held down the strings melodies of Spektor’s songs with as much vivacity as a full-sized symphony.

Spektor took a sincere moment to recognize her musicians, introducing Nir, along with keyboardist, Brad Whiteley, and drummer, Mathias Kunzli, before an animated audience member shouted “Who’s playing piano,” obviously referring to Spektor. The humbled artist laughed quietly in response, dismissing his comment with an amused, “whatevs.”

As a pianist, Spektor remained seated during the majority of the show; however, she has realized this can be a bit monotonous for the side of the room that her back is turned to, so she shifted her stance periodically to address those on the left. This produced an even more inclusive, intimate concert experience.

“I’m sorry. I know my backs to you. It’s that things fault,” the musician joked, gesturing to her instrument. “All you have to do is play piano, then when you stand up everyone claps.”

Before beginning the very fitting 2012 track “Ballad of a Politician,” Spektor took a moment to pause and show her support for immigrants facing recent government regulations. This was followed by thunderous applause.

“Every day, I’m just more and more grateful that I was allowed to come here with my family as a refugee, that’s probably the only reason I’m here today playing for you,” Spektor said. “I truly believe in the ideals and progressive nature of our country, I just, I believe in open doors and no bans.”

Perhaps the most elevating moment of the night came soon after Spektor shared her political stance, when, during her 2006 hit, “Fidelity,” a single woman stood from her seat and began to dance. One by one, individuals began to stand, pulling their neighbors to their feet until the audience was rhythmically swaying and clapping to the bitter sweet lyrics and bubbly instrumentals.

“Thanks for the dance party Santa Barbara,” Spektor shouted back at the enthusiastic crowd, a sensational denouement to an enlightening evening.

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