What We Saw From Row J: Regina Spektor at The Esplanade

What we saw from the (not really) cheap seats was an absolutely unforgettable performance, thanks to the one and only Regina Spektor. The Russian-American singer-songwriter (what a mouthful) was in town a few days before Christmas for the last show on her tour, supporting her newest effort What We Saw from the Cheap Seats.

The opening act was Jack Dishel, also known as Only Son and Regina’s very own husband. Decked out in a casual black leather jacket with a grey t-shirt and jeans, Only Son exuded a very mellow vibe as he walked on stage. With his barebones set-up of his guitar and iPod, which sported his backing tracks and cricket sounds (yes, cricket sounds), Only Son got down to play some songs from his repertoire which ranged from easy-going folk tunes to pop-rock jams. His music, frankly, did not engage me. There was just such a wide range of styles in his music where it was unclear what style truly represented him. Sure, there are many artists out there trying out new flavors and identities (which is always good), but I feel that for an upcoming artist such as him, he should first build a distinct image by crafting his own sound. Thankfully, his set was saved by his delightfully self-deprecating humour and candor (My name is Only Son, not Special Guest).

Regina, on the other hand, giggled to herself awkwardly as she walked onstage to an enthusiastic crowd. Quickly composing herself effortlessly once she picked up the mic, she launched into ‘Ain’t No Cover’. (Meanwhile, as a totally straight guy who’s clueless about fashion, I remarked to Bandwagon editor Delfina that I loved her dress. I don’t know why.) Her voice echoed in the halls of the Esplanade Theater with such astounding clarity. Listening to her sing was better than a mere studio recording. Her versatility was on full display that night, effortlessly shifting between registers while also adding in whispers and a little beatboxing. It was flawless; let’s just leave it at that. 

Just that night alone proved why she is one of indie pop’s biggest acts right now. However, despite her current state of popularity, she remains to be remarkably down-to-earth, as evident when she spoke in-between songs. There was this smile she sported throughout the night that just seemed so genuine and heartwaming. She admitted to the audience that she was extra nervous since it was her first time playing in Singapore. For someone who has been touring and writing music for more than a decade, it is uncommon to see something like that. Nonetheless, it only made us like her more.

When she performed, however, that awkward, quirky side of Regina vanished. Backed by a three-piece ensemble, she self-assuredly explored her wide discography, from her early theatrical baroque pop material to her later works, which border on straightforward piano pop. There were the crowd favourites such as ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’, ‘Fidelity’ and ‘Us’ while she dug out some gems like ‘The Call’ and ‘Ode to Divorce’.

Ending with the all-too familiar ‘Samson’, we were sad to bid adieu to Regina. Her setlist was long, no doubt, but we wanted more. But still, it was a spellbinding performance that felt incredibly intimate in the huge confines of Esplanade Theatre. Hope to see you again, Regina. We really liked you very much.