Regina Spektor's Israel Concert Took Off When She Lost Control

Regina Spektor was less protected but nevertheless radiated a punk attitude that didn't emerge in the well-rounded renditions she's used to pulling out of her sleeve

Regina Spektor performs at the Ra’anana Amphitheater, August 19, 2017.
Lior Keter

Midway through her performance at the Ra’anana Amphitheater on Saturday night, Regina Spektor suddenly stopped and faced the audience. “One of the more difficult things on this tour is the news from home. ... Flipping Nazis. They’re back. Who knew? So soon?” she confided, half-smiling, half serious, using a stronger adverb.

Although the singer-songwriter was talking about recent events in the United States, one might have thought this Russian-born Jew was referring to Israel. Her Hebrew “toda” (“thank you”) after each song, like the spine-tingling a cappella version of “Shalom Aleichem” that opened the show, proved she was grateful to the Israeli audience. She also mentioned being happy about the local sun,” which had already brought out her freckles.

Spektor has tons of charm. It’s not only her courteous approach to the audience, but the overall vibe: She came to have fun and to treat the amphitheater like a small, intimate venue.

Still, she’s the kind of singer you either love, or love to hate. This volatility was demonstrated early on. “Folding Chair,” right after “Shalom Aleichem,” is a kind of vocal and instrumental sampler of Spektor’s talents: She skipped nonchalantly from childlike and naive to angry and defiant, while switching among octaves and tones on the piano. The virtuosity and the charming ease of these transitions provided moments of amazement.

Later came “Grand Hotel,” which reminded us that Spektor is not only an excellent writer and composer, but also quite a good storyteller. Her ability to distill in three minutes a pretty picture that combines dark mythology with flesh-and-blood figures is a treasure. In “Tornadoland” she dived deeper and darker, rising in every refrain to a patently improbable falsetto. At the same time, this virtuosity, which impressed the audience and earned enthusiastic applause, began to repeat itself.

One song after another, one beautiful rendition after another, and it seemed as though Spektor were playing a recital she has performed too many times: too precise, astonishingly synchronized, breaking in the right places. But then she sang “Apres Moi,” in which she connected to her Soviet roots, and the microphone exploded with new heights of charisma. The singing in Russian, deep and welling up powerfully, revealed the wonderful dirt in Spektor’s gut that she is only rarely willing to expose.

In general, it was thrilling when she lost control. When she began playing electric guitar, in “Bobbing for Apples,” she got stuck repeatedly, cursing the instrument.. Those moments really made the show: In them, Spektor was less protected but nevertheless radiated a punk attitude that didn’t emerge in the well-rounded renditions she’s used to pulling out of her sleeve.

The concert itself was generous and included several hits, from “You’ve Got Time,” the main title theme song for “Orange is the New Black” — which caused audience members to pull out their smartphones for the first time — to the encore, which included “Better” and, as expected, “Samson” and essential hits from her breakout album “Fidelity.”

The best reason for Spektor’s success was evident in the performances of the wonderful “Us,” and “Obsolete,” which she began three times before her voice found the right note. When that happens, there is a magic that mixes space and time into a particularly beautiful experience. Emotion flowed from this space opera, and it is exposed and sensitive and pure. It’s possible that this rendition — together with the other magic spells Spektor cast on the audience — led it to stand at the end of the concert until she returned for the encore.

And still, something in the fire that brought Spektor to the international indie stage has ebbed somewhat. Maybe it’s maturity, which interferes with everyone’s ability to cry. Or the distance from Mother Russia that has reduced the intensity of the tremor. Whatever the reason, there was still sufficient beauty and talent in the evening that Spektor gave to the Israeli audience. And the audience, like her, returned home feeling grateful.