Almost One of Us: Regina Spektor in Caesarea

The high point of her concert was a rendition of 'Walking to Caesarea.' It was a sweet way to end the summer.

Regina Spektor's performance at the Caesarea Amphitheater was a very sweet way to end the summer. It’s the sort of performance you leave through a cloud of cotton candy, enter the house quietly, embracing, get undressed and giggle and then you go into the bathroom, close the door quietly and brush you teeth until your gums bleed.

The warm-up was by Only Son (Jack Dishel, Spektor's husband, formerly the lead guitarist of The Moldy Peaches, wearing a leather coat in August). Someone next to me checks whether the Shazam app works for indie performances, too; a bespectacled couple takes pride in the designer tushy pillows they brought from home to rescue them from the hard stones of the amphitheater. All this, while the singer-songwriter on the stage was pouring his heart out, playing a wintery folksong combined with a sample of crickets. What stood out in his performance was the song "It's a Boy," which is about the genetic engineering of the perfect child and corresponds with Jamiroquai's greatest hit, and his jokes about Herod.

Before the main performance, a devoted stagehand wiped Spektor's piano with a dry rag and then went over the keys with a brush with great concentration, taking a special interest in cleaning the black ones. He went and came back and did that repeatedly. Had the piano been on a loudspeaker at the time, and the situation had taken place at the jazz festival in Eilat, he might have been applauded by the audience.

At the same time, with quite good timing, her fan Ehud Barak found his place in the seventh row and sat there comfortably, surrounded by security guards looking at the audience in the bleachers. Spektor can add another high-ranking politician, along with United States President Barack Obama, to her list; for them and their friends she sings the song "Ballad for a Politician."

Spektor came onstage in an off-the shoulder purple dress, with a pin embedded with glittering precious stones on her head and whispering to friends or relatives sitting in the first rows. In the opening song, the gospel "Ain't No Cover," she was alone on stage, drumming on the microphone at the rate of a beating heart that is bursting with anticipation. She sat next to the piano, nodded to the players and played a medley of songs in her unique musical language, with barely-contained restraint and slight neuroticism, facing the piano and the drummer, making sure to concentrate, and avoiding eye contact with the audience.

The most dramatic rendition was for the song "All the Rowboats," which is from her new album "What We Saw from the Cheap Seats." The audience, even in the cheap seats, seemed to have an air piano and pierced the humid air with sharp hand motions - as opposed to other performances where everyone plays the strings of an air guitar or the skins of air drums.

During the song "On the Radio," Spektor forgot a few words, and then a line, and then a refrain, and blushed, and the audience, which had reviewed the important words at home, covered for her. Any singer can forget the words to songs that he sings every evening, but Spektor? She is the one who found profound meanings in forgetting the words to your favorite songs, in a song played later on, "Eet."

The arrangement of the songs from the album for the performance is hard work for Yoed Nir, Spektor's Israeli cellist, who received the longest and loudest applause when Spektor thanked her players for the tour that ended with this performance. His warm and confident playing manages to stand out, even against the background of Spektor's virtuoso voice, which she uses as a drum and a kazoo when necessary.

The song that was performed most energetically was "You've Got Time," which begins the episodes of the television series "Orange is the New Black," and sounds like a Blondie hit. That's one of Spektor's favorite genres - music for films and television. The rendition of the song "The Call," which appeared at the end of the film "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," caused quite a number of young people in the audience to tremble in their seats. Spektor particularly enjoyed singing the song of the drunks, "Sailor Song," with the refrain "Because Marian is a bitch, because Marian is a bitch." It’s one of her less-successful songs, but apparently it helps her release aggression onstage.

After 23 songs in a row, in a fast arrangement with hiccups and whispers, blinking and knocking by Spektor, the band left the stage, only to return after the audience demanded an encore. The encore began with the petrified love song "Us," followed by Spektor's most famous hit, "Fidelity," from the album "Begin to Hope," in a small, lovely and successful rendition. The encore ended with the song "Samson."

The high point of the performance was the moment when Spektor got up from the piano, finally looked at the audience, took some air into her lungs, picked up a microphone, and sang "Walking to Caesarea" ("Eli, Eli," with words by Hannah Senesh), in a hair-raising, relevant and personal rendition, which should be screened for every high school girl who plans to sing it at a Holocaust Day ceremony.

She is almost one of us. Between songs she says "Toda" in Hebrew and the bleachers melt; they call out to her and make requests in English, Hebrew and Russian. But she doesn't respond. And seeing her precise performance, in which a stormy rendition of "Molitva" by Bulat Okudzhava in the original language was outstanding, one wonders what would happen if Spektor and her family had not immigrated to the U. S. in the late 1980s, but had come to Israel. Would she have been easily absorbed into the Israeli musical scene or would she have stopped at classical music? Would she have joined Arkadi Duchin or Marina Maximillian?

And we should also stop and think: Would the conditions ever have ripened for the new immigrant musician who is bursting with talent and creativity, to perform in Caesarea?

Regina Spektor, Caesarea amphitheater, August 24.

Lior Keter